After an extensive debate at its last meeting, the Board of Selectmen voted on Monday, Sept. 21, to continue the search for a new chief financial officer and authorized the National Executive Service Corps (NESC) to prioritize the hunt for interim candidates but to also consider permanent ones if they should appear.
That was the question put before the board by First Selectman Bill Brennan. At this point in their deliberations, the selectmen had fallen into agreement that to avoid a gap in government, the search process should be initiated regardless, but also because of the fact that the current composition of the board will soon change, with contested races for first selectman and other seats on the Board of Selectmen slated for the Nov. 3 municipal election. But whether the search firm should focus on finding an interim CFO or a permanent replacement for Dennies was still to be answered.
Prior to discussion, Brennan read a statement he had prepared in response to what he called “misunderstandings” regarding the matter at hand.
“There is no goal and there never has been a goal to hire a CFO as soon as possible,” he said and repeated for emphasis. “The only objective is to develop an initial comprehensive list of qualified CFO candidates consistent with the position specs.”
“There will not be any decision to hire anyone without the first selectman-elect’s participation. No one will be secretly hired and, given the process and time elements involved, I can assure you that the newly elected Board of Selectmen will eventually exercise the final vote of approval of an interim CFO or a permanent CFO, whichever the case may be,” Brennan said.
The chief executive officer of the NESC, Marvin Berenblum, was present, and he explained to the board it is more difficult to find an interim candidate than it is to find a permanent one.
With that information, the selectmen launched into another discussion, but the majority were of the same opinion, namely, that the best course of action considering the circumstances is to pursue an interim replacement.
Brennan’s main interest was in the “continuity of government,” as he put it. He expressed fear that Wilton would be without a CFO in the heart of budget season. The new board and first selectman take over on Dec. 1.
Selectman Michael Kaelin supported Brennan’s stand, but for different reasons.
He sees the next board’s involvement as integral to the search for the new CFO because that group of selectmen will be the ones to define the position.
“Right now,” he said, “I don’t think the priority can be anything other than interim, because we’re not in a position to set the criteria and pick the permanent.”
Selectman Dick Dubow argued that because the CFO will in all likelihood serve the town longer than the next Board of Selectmen and first selectman, it should be the priority of the current board to locate a permanent candidate, making the search for an interim CFO a “plan B.”
“Since our new CFO is likely to be here beyond the term of our next first selectman, whoever that is, and certainly beyond the composition of the next Board of Selectmen, let’s continue to move forward with our first priority: to independently, as free of partisanship and intervention, fill the CFO position, on a permanent basis, in a timely manner,” he said.
Selectman Deborah McFadden said she didn’t “want to politicize” the search by inserting herself into the debate when she is running for first selectman.
“I am one of those candidates for the first selectman-elect,” she said, “and I’m trying very hard to separate my responsibility on the Board of Selectmen ... and my role as a candidate.”
“I think we ought to continue the search for both. It could take us a while to find a permanent to come on board, in which case, then, as Mike suggested, we could have a brief interim, but if we are able to find the right (permanent) candidate, I don’t think that we want to miss that opportunity,” McFadden said.
Kenneth Dartley, the newly appointed Republican selectman filling the vacancy left by Jim Saxe’s resignation on Sept. 8, weighed in for his first time on the Board of Selectmen, on the same night he was appointed.
“I never interviewed for a job when I didn’t know who my boss was going to be,” he said.
“I’d want to know what the boss thought of the job description. We should set the priority on hiring an interim to get us through the gap.”
Kaelin made a motion to authorize the NESC to prioritize the search for an interim candidate, urging Berenblum not to neglect to consider properly qualified permanent candidates that surface over the course of the process.
He was seconded by Brennan. Kaelin, Dartley and Brennan voted in favor of the motion, Dubow voted against it and McFadden abstained.