New CFO sets sights on efficiency

On Dec. 7, Anne Kelly-Lenz, previously finance director for the city of Bridgeport, succeeded Sandy Denies as Wilton’s chief financial officer. And while it’s been only a month, she is beginning to look forward as she continues to settle in.

Kelly-Lenz grew up in Dublin, Ireland. She immigrated to the United States in 1986, to New York, and got her stateside start working nannying gigs.

Her first corporate employer, a now-defunct Stamford-based long-term capital management firm, paid for Kelly-Lenz to take night classes at Sacred Heart University, where she graduated with a degree in business.

With that, Kelly-Lenz took to the hedge fund industry and worked within it on the management side of things for some time.

“Each job gave me a different exposure,” the Trumbull resident said.

While employed, she returned to Sacred Heart for another year of night classes, this time walking away with a master’s degree in education.

But after working as a substitute teacher for a brief period of time, Kelly-Lenz decided she “really missed the business world.”

“I’m a numbers person,” she said. “I missed the numbers, the structure, the profound analysis.”

However, Kelly-Lenz did not venture back into the private sector; instead, she broke into municipal finance with a one-year run as treasurer for the town of Stratford.

That led her to Bridgeport. She joined the city as its treasurer and held that title for two years and eight months before being made tax collector.

Kelly-Lenz oversaw the collection of annual taxes for four years and was subsequently promoted to finance director, a position similar to Wilton’s CFO (chief financial officer).

For the three years and eight months she spent occupying that role, Kelly-Lenz was responsible for planning and preparing all official financial statements, compiling the city’s comprehensive annual financial report, and overseeing 56 employees across seven departments, including Treasury, Comptroller, Purchasing, Tax Collector, and Tax Assessor.

According to Kelly-Lenz, her Bridgeport career gave her the skill-set she hopes to bring to bear while following the latest thread in her career.

For instance, while in Bridgeport she acquired extensive experience overseeing other departments. “Sheerly from the size” of Connecticut’s largest city, Kelly-Lenz said, “I got the chance to involve a lot of other departments with my work.”

“It’s a half-a-billion-dollar budget,” she said of Bridgeport. “I oversaw seven departments and 56 employees; there was so much opportunity for interaction and collaboration.”

Unlike some places, Wilton tends to consolidate its payroll, and in this particular town, the chief financial executive functions as both the treasurer and the finance director.

But since Kelly-Lenz worked as the treasurer, tax collector, and finance director for the city of Bridgeport, she has experience handling all of the duties required of a Wilton CFO.

Kelly-Lenz happened to be reconsidering her career in Bridgeport when the National Executive Service Corps (NESC), the firm that conducted the CFO head hunt for Wilton, showed up at her doorstep.

“I was on the fence because Bridgeport’s governing administration was about to change and a new mayor was about to take over,” she said. “When the NESC reached out, I was pretty interested.”

But after the interview process, which Kelly-Lenz “thoroughly enjoyed,” her mind was made up. Apparently, she saw something in Wilton that caught her eye and kept its focus.

“I was surprised with the energy and enthusiasm people brought to my second interview,” she said. “Everyone was interested in what the town was doing, in what direction it would be heading; everybody was involved, each with a unique vision.

“I decided that it was an environment I would want to work in.”

Since taking her post, she’s spent most of the time “getting up to speed.”

As with every job, “there’s a learning curve,” Kelly-Lenz said of municipal finance executives’ roles, adding that “the very receptive [Wilton financial] staff has been a tremendous help” to her as she attempts to navigate that curve.

“I’m going through all of the town’s financial histories and its active policies and putting my own understanding of them into writing, to ensure my understanding, and the staff is digging up the information I need to get acquainted.”

Currently, while simultaneously putting together the 2015 fiscal audit, Kelly-Lenz is going over the fraud risk assessment carried out by New England-based business advisory firm BlumShapiro back in the summer.

According to Kelly-Lenz, most of the reforms suggested in that audit were more or less “normal,” and do not jump out at her as anything at all indicative of controls significantly too lax, nor do they bespeak any potential fraud waiting to happen.

“Most all of the suggestions made seem like good items to have in place,” Kelly-Lenz said, “items having to do with the separation of duties, how to account for your cash, slightly tighter controls — it’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes looking at your practices.”

While speaking with The Bulletin, Kelly-Lenz was hard pressed to financially measure Wilton against similar municipalities, because, as she put it, her “benchmark is Bridgeport.”

“Wilton and Bridgeport are two different financial worlds,” Kelly-Lenz said. While much remains the same between the two in terms of finance direction, Bridgeport is economically challenged whereas Wilton is affluent.

“Wilton isn’t cash-strapped like Bridgeport is,” Kelly-Lenz said, though noting that during her tenure in Bridgeport she witnessed the city on a continuous trend toward fiscal adequacy.

Nevertheless, she said, “in a city like Bridgeport, you’re borrowing a lot of your operating cash. Wilton is dissimilar to Bridgeport in that regard.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s easier to direct finance in Wilton than it is in Bridgeport. “It’s not easier; it’s just one less step,” Kelly-Lenz said.

On the subject of Wilton, Kelly-Lenz used the word “strong” to describe its overall financial status at present. “Wilton’s fund balance, per its policy, is solid,” she said, adding that the town has a commendable credit rating and healthy bonding habits.

“Historically, Wilton seems to have bonded only what it needed to,” Kelly-Lenz said. “You have to be careful to make sure only to bond what’s necessary. If you’ve got a $10-million project budget spread out across four or five years, you don’t need to bond all of it out up front.”

“Judging by my recent research,” Kelly-Lenz said, “Wilton seems to have been good about that.”

Other than those few points, Kelly-Lenz did confirm that tax collecting is Wilton’s main source of revenue, and acknowledged that the high tax rate here, though it comes at the expense of the taxpayer, is a big financial plus for the town.

While by her own admission it is at this time still too early for Kelly-Lenz to start implementing changes to Wilton’s financial processes, she is currently working toward a vantage where it will be possible for her to properly identify and address any inadequacies if they should exist.

“Right now, I’m interviewing the financial staff and asking them what they think we should do and how they think we should do it,” Kelly-Lenz said.

“I want to know their opinions as to what would make the town more financially efficient. I’m starting here, with finance; then I hope to interview the staffs of the other departments as well.

“Everyone [on the payroll] has their own take on how to build on what we have,” she continued, pledging, “I’m not going to go around changing things without first gauging them.”

Of her new position, Kelly-Lenz said so far it’s been all good. “So far, I like it,” she said. “It’s a very nice environment, and I’m enjoying delving into Wilton’s financial past, seeing what’s where and all.

“I’m a month in, but I’m looking forward to serving the public, and to affording the most efficient, cost-effective outcome possible for the taxpayer.”