At a special Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday, Nov. 24, Wilton’s selectmen unanimously hired Anne Kelly-Lenz to permanently fill the position of Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Sandy Dennies, whose resignation takes effect Nov. 30.

Kelly-Lenz will be leaving her post as finance director of the city of Bridgeport to join Wilton. According to her LinkedIn page, she has six years’ experience in the private sector as the accounting manager of a hedge fund company preceding her public career.

For the city of Bridgeport, she worked three years as treasurer, four as tax collector and four as finance director.
The meeting
Lynne Vanderslice, Wilton’s first selectman-elect, was unable to attend the special meeting, but joined in the conversation via speakerphone.

“I expect you all would appreciate that as the first selectman-elect and as a former financial professional, I was very concerned with ensuring our next CFO is well qualified, with outstanding accounting and financial knowledge and skills, and that the individual had the track record and strong management and good communication skills. Therefore, I consider us very lucky to have found all of this in Anne, and I strongly urge you to hire her,” Vanderslice said over the phone.

Previously, Vanderslice had also emailed a statement regarding the search and its outcome to each of the selectmen, and outgoing First Selectman Bill Brennan thought it prudent — considering it will be Vanderslice, not him, whom Kelly-Lenz will report to — to read it aloud.

“On Nov. 5, I met with two members of the CFO search committee, Dick Dubow and Bill Brennan, and two individuals from the NESC (National Executive Service Corps), Marv Berenblum and Mark Evens. I previously had been provided with information on potential interim and permanent candidates,” the statement began.

“Two candidates stood out above the others: Anne as a permanent hire and another individual as an interim with the possibility of permanent. While scheduling interviews with both candidates, the committee learned the interim candidate had taken a permanent position. I recommended we interview Anne before pursuing other possible interim candidates.

“Both Warren and Dick Dubow were unable to attend their scheduled interview with Anne. In their place, I asked Richard Creeth, a chartered accountant with relevant experience, a current Board of Finance member and a previous Board of Selectmen member to participate.

“I interviewed Anne three times — two group interviews with myself, Bill and Richard, and one interview with her alone. After the first interview, we were all impressed. Quite frankly, Richard and I were concerned this was too good to be true, and agreed to press harder in the second rounds of interviews.

“Throughout, Anne displayed a strong knowledge of accounting, financial reporting, budgeting and forecasting, and good analytical thinking. She had excellent communication skills, and demonstrated the ability to think quickly on her feet. Her answers to questions … left me confident she is both a strong and fair manager. The reference results which you have support my assessment. In her current position, she has successfully dealt with difficult situations, has shown a willingness to roll up her sleeves to address issues, and displayed a strong sense of customer service in her interactions with taxpayers.

“In further assessing, I contacted our BlumShapiro audit partner. BlumShapiro also audits Bridgeport. At my request, our audit partner who is knowledgeable about the Wilton CFO position and our needs, spoke with the Bridgeport partner. The response was fully supportive of Anne’s performance in Bridgeport, and her ability to be successful in Wilton.

“Richard and I are in complete agreement that we have the right candidate for Wilton, and ask for your approval of Anne as our permanent CFO. With Anne, I anticipate a smooth transition. Thank you for your consideration.”

Before opening up the meeting to comments and questions from selectmen, Brennan underscored the value of Kelly-Lenz’s positive reference evaluations, something that each of the selectmen would echo in their remarks.

“[Anne’s] supervisors, peers and subordinates all rated her exceptional, in the 9 to 10 range in almost every incident,” Brennan said. “It was one of the highest ratings that NESC said they had gotten on a candidate in years.”

Selectman Dubow, though he was out of town and unable to interview Kelly-Lenz himself, spoke to her qualifications as they stood on paper and argued that her résumé is bolstered by her references.

“I, unfortunately, did not have the opportunity to meet her,” Dubow said. “On paper, initially, she looked to be an outstanding candidate. Reading the follow-up, in terms of the reference checks … the comments that were made were absolutely remarkable, in terms of how highly they rank her across the board. I think she would be an outstanding candidate for Wilton, and we’d be fortunate to be able to hire her tonight.”

Mike Kaelin explained that although he was not a member of the search committee, he had on principle insisted upon interviewing Kelly-Lenz himself, had done so and was satisfied with her as a permanent candidate, recommending she be hired.

“I’m not a rubber stamp, and I insist upon investigating things myself,” Kaelin said. “So, much to the trouble of the first selectman today, I insisted upon interviewing her myself before I would vote tonight, and I want to thank Bill for arranging that. I also want to thank Anne for agreeing to do that; I think it says something very good about her, the way she agreed to do it; she agreed to do it without hesitation.

“I was overwhelmingly impressed with her. I genuinely enjoyed speaking with her on the phone. To what Dick said, the reference report we got is truly outstanding; this is not what reference reports normally look like. The subordinates ranked her a 10 out of 10, and even her supervisors had her at 9.7, which is what lawyers like me tell supervisors to do — not to give anyone a perfect score. So she came as close to a perfect score as we can get.

“I think this is a great thing that we’re going to have someone starting on day one without a gap between the two chief financial officers. I’m in favor of it.”

Selectman Deborah McFadden observed that while Wilton is fortunate to have found such a qualified candidate, it is even more fortunate to have secured her employment, considering the other municipalities presently searching for executive financial experts, adding also that Wilton’s current CFO, Dennies, endorsed Kelly-Lenz.

“I was equally impressed when I read the résumé,” McFadden said, “and particularly the evaluations by individuals. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet her, but I did take the time to meet with Sandy Dennies, our current CFO, and found out that the CFOs of Fairfield County meet on a monthly basis to talk about issues and work together on things, and she had very high comments as well and praise of [Anne].

“In light of the work of the committee, the résumé, the interview process, the vetting that was done, all the factors that come together, I think that Wilton is really fortunate, particularly considering there’s competition out there, that we’re not the only municipality that is searching for a CFO at this time.”

Earlier in the meeting, McFadden had prompted Creeth, who was in the audience, to share his opinion of Kelly-Lenz, since he had been part of the search committee.

“One of the things I liked about what [Anne had] done,” Creeth said, “is she’d been treasurer, tax collector and finance director in Bridgeport; she’d been through all of those. And, the thing that I really liked, was, in each of those departments, she did a lot of process improvement. So I was extremely impressed. We drilled her on specific technical issues, financial reporting, encumbrance accounting ... I totally endorse Lynne’s opinion.”

When it was time to vote, a motion was made by Dubow to hire Kelly-Lenz as Wilton’s permanent chief financial officer, effective Dec. 7.

He was seconded by McFadden, and the selectmen voted unanimously, hiring Anne Kelly-Lenz as chief financial officer, town of Wilton.
Information
How to approach the search for Dennies’ replacement was a point of contention at the Board of Selectmen’s regular meeting on Sept. 8.

With contested races for first selectman and other seats on the board not yet decided, questions of whether to at that time pursue a permanent or an interim CFO, and whether or not the current board should even be involved in the search with a new board coming into effect so soon, were raised.

Further debating the subject at their Sept. 21 meeting, the selectmen voted to continue the search and authorized the NESC to prioritize the hunt for interim candidates but also to consider permanent ones if they should appear.

Several members of the public spoke against the resolution then before the board, arguing that it was not within the current board’s purview to hire or even to search for an employee that will be reporting to another executive.

Three residents even filed (and later withdrew) a Freedom of Information Act complaint against Brennan, Dubow and Serenbetz for their actions as a search committee for a new CFO.

At the special Board of Selectmen meeting on Nov. 24, members of the public attended. One requested to make public comment but was denied, Brennan saying, “We didn’t set a schedule for public comment, and so I’m going to adjourn the meeting.”

Public comment was not listed on the agenda for the Nov. 24 special meeting.

The NESC is a nonprofit consulting firm that caters specifically to nonprofit clients.