Who’s Next?

Gordon Joseloff’s announcement that he will not run for a 3rd term as first selectman means the race for Westport’s “chief executive” is wide open.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff

Former Board of Education chairman Jim Marpe has already announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination. State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and Board of Finance vice chair Helen Garten are rumored to be mulling runs on the Democratic ticket.

There will be more names floated, for sure. Some might even run.

The election is nearly a year away. But this is important — the future of Westport is at stake! — so let’s open the “06880” comments section for your thoughts.

Please stick to this topic: Who you’d like to see as 1st selectman, and why. Feel free to talk about any Westporters who’d make good leaders — but please do not talk smack about previous ones. Let’s keep this discussion focused on the future.

59 responses to “Who’s Next?

  1. Ok, ok, I won’t smack Gordon around…….I love to see a leader in this town who takes reposbility for his/her actions and melds the town dept with the board of education departments and thus get more bang for our bucks so to speak. We need more collaboration with town leaders. Oh and a leader that works ALL day on Fridays!

  2. Another Citizen

    I think Liz Milwe would make a great First Selectman. She got rid of the plastic bags and did a great job on the gun resolution. She’s passionate and loves this town.
    She probably has no interest but I think she is the kind of person we need in charge!
    It’s not easy so Thank you to anyone who wants it!

  3. David J Loffredo

    Matt Mandell or John McCarthy

  4. Avi Kaner – his understanding of finance and budgeting is just what this town needs after years of financial mismanagement.

  5. I want to be the first republican to endorse democrat Helen Gatner. She speaks her mind and standsd up for what is right.

    • Lisa Marie Alter

      I totally second that, Marty – with one difference – I’m an Independent – but I agree Helen Garten does that and much more.

      She’d be an outstanding First Selectperson !

  6. John McCarthy would make an excellent choice!

  7. Jim Marpe is, by far, the best candidate for this position and I will champion him for the job. He has experience in the private sector, experience in the local government, and is true to his own values while maintaining an open mind for compromise between political parties. Bravo, Jim!

  8. I’m voting Woog. He gets everyone in Westport to play nicely.

  9. Bart Shuldman

    Our next town leader will face a daunted task regarding the towns financial situation as we must deal with an every grwogin town budegt that now surpasses $200 million, while also delaing with an unfunded pension plan that approaches $30 Million, and and unfunded OPEB program that is at least $100 million. Adding it up and the towns liabilities and expenses now exceed $330 million. To put it in perspective, the state of CT is running a budget deficit of $360 million. The Westport balance sheet and expenses are an issue that will not go away.

    As we argue for ideas to help the senior citizens with a program like Baron’s South, all senior citizens will be required to pay higher taxes unless we tackle the budget and pensiuon and OPEB obligations. If not, all residents will be paying higher and higher taxes.

    With Governor Malloy raising state income taxes between 30 and 60%, the federal government raising taxes on everyone (remember the payroll tax just went up for all), the allowable money for mortages are decreasing. If our town needs to continue to raise taxes eventually our home prices will be negativley effected. In addtion, senior citizens will find it very difficult to stay in Westport no matter how many affordable homes we try and build. There are just too many people. And our town services could see a decline.

    Please remember, OPEB allows a someone to work for our town for 10 years, then retire, and we will pay 60% of their medical expenses (Including inflation) AND THEIR spouse, until they BOTH die. Since medical expenses increase as the person ages, this liability will continue to grow and grow.

    While you debate who will be best to lead us the next 4 years, hopefully the conversation will include who will be best to deal with one of the worst financial balance sheets in the state. And hopefully we will elect somone not scared to be honest with all of us, and do what it will takes to resolve these issues.

    • Bart,

      You seem to have a lot of knowledge on the OPEB. Can you please explain to me how in the hell our town has been so irresponsible about this, and how I can get such an amazing deal in the private sector?!

      No wonder people in the public office salivate for that. It’s incredible. 60% after only ten years for husband & wife? Amazing.

      • Yes, let’s make sure everyone feels that deep screwing that private sector folks feel. “Everybody. must. get. screwed.” ~ Bob Dylan

  10. Bart Shuldman

    First–I forgot to add we have $180 million in DEBT. Add that to our liabilities and unfunded obligations of $100 million (OPEB) and $30 million (Pensions) and the towns owes over $310 million. Then add our town beudget of $205 million.

    I will hope our residents focus on this issue when discussing our next leader. If not, our children will face a very difficult task of resolving what we leave them. These issues as most know, do not go away. They get worse and the liability grows and as we continue to unfund the obligation. The cost will build on itself.

    OPEB is a horrible program that was approved some years ago. To make matters worse, we as a town have been unfunding the obligation for years. In fact, we mis-counted how many employees are in the program and realized there were more, and the unfunded obligation was much worse that stated in many financial reports. To be honest, the unfunding was known by Joseloff and others but for years was never dealt with. Some mentioned as potential candidates are the same ones that left us in this mess.

    OPEB has many different levels of benefits, depending on job and age. Some get better benefits that what I have written. I find it extremely troubling that the town could hire soemone at age 45, work for the town for 10 years. and then retire and we must pay 60% of their medical costs (inlcudeing any inflation) and THEIR SPOUSE until they BOTH die.

    Again, I will hope the residents focus on this issue when deciding opur next leader. It is not a political party solution, it will be one where we beleive the person (no matter what party) we elect will resolve it. And we should look at their history and previous actions to be able to build that trust or not.

    • All of the problems you ennumerate are real enough, but they grow out of a dysfunctional governmental structure. The town is basically ungovernable; one group spends money with virtually no constraint, and then another group with little or no real power to restrain spending rubber stamps the spending. There is little or no coordination accross subsections of the government, and each entity with a budget operates virtually without giving thought to what other entities might be spending or for what purpose they might be spending. As a result, we have set of entrenched bureacracies none of which has any interest or motivation to develop a coherent and comprehensive budget. In my 35 years in Westport no First Selectman, of either party, has had the inclination to take on the real issue which is the structure of the local government and its dispersion of power to the point that no one is in charge; the buck stops no where.

      • I will stay an optimist and believe the next First Selectman will decide this issue is to important to ignore. The town has made a good start by electing new members to the BofF. Just look at the work on Barons South to see the rubber stamp was thrown away.

        But you are right- we need to leader who can articulate the problem and motivate the solution. It is not difficult. We just did not have that with Joseloff and others.

  11. Sank T. Monious

    Estelle Margolis has my vote!!!

  12. Of all the candidates mentioned, Helen Garten clearly leads in experience, and more importantly, common sense. A financial wiz, she can get Westport on an even keel. Hope she gives it a shot.

    • Garten is not without her flaws.

    • Helen was the Chairwoman on the BofF when all these issues surfaced. It would be hard for anyone to say she reacted to resolve them. She seemed to want to support Josleoff in not dealing with the problems while Josleoff kept his desire to spend even more and do more programs such as Barons South.

      Just my opinion but she would have to really convince a lot of electorate in Westport she has changed.

      The last election should show everyone that the issues are now very important to residents and they want chbage. Just look at the BofF and P&Z to see how the voters came out with a voice.

  13. if a Republican ever gets elected in no matter how good they are it would be a miracle.

  14. Any Republican.

  15. Here’s my criteria for a good candidate:

    Someone who can articulate a vision that does NOT involve things like destination shopping, downtown parking and workforce/senior/low-cost condominiums in our town center. Someone who prioritizes quality of life over commercial development. Someone who invests in the town assets that make Westport special and unique from neighboring towns.

    I eagerly await to be disappointed by both Westport parties.

  16. John McCarthy and Matt Mandel either one would be a great choice!

  17. Someone smart and honest, for a change.

  18. Anyone but John McCarthy. A troublemaker who would not have any hope of governing this highly diverse community.

  19. To a large extent it does not matter who’s next. The problems are intractable. If you want change; move.

  20. How about Miggs Burroughs? Overseeing Westport requires some creativity.

  21. Bart Shuldman

    Looks like things are getting worse in CT–while having a state budget deficit of $360 million–if things do not get any better–the state could run a billion dollar deficit. I believe we get about $4 million from the state. That could easily go away and we Westport tax payers will need to pay more. Could state income taxes go up again? How will that impact Westport? All this will sit on the desk of the new Selectman:

    Red ink is on the rise in the state budget again, with a new deficit topping $64 million just one month after lawmakers met in special session to balance the books. .

    The $64.4 million shortfall in the general fund — reported this week by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration — is only about one-third of the minimum threshold needed to force the governor to draft another deficit-mitigation plan.

    Still, it’s worse than the $40 million deficit Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo reported Jan. 2, with the latest negative numbers driven by a new declining revenue forecast.

    • It is funny how that works; Malloy raises tax rates and the deficit gets worse.

      • Bart Shuldman

        Governor Malloy is blaming lack of sales tax receipts as one of the issues. No kidding. When you take money away from a resident they stop spending. Remember he raised taxes on the middle class–those making $50k and above.

        But we will face potential problems as the governor tackles the growing deficit. We cannot believe this will not affect our town. Again, however gets elected will need to focus on the towns financial status. With over $300 million in obligations and a town budget of over $200 million, this will challenge our town as to where to spend, how to spend, and where to cut.

        Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey gave town leaders reason to believe Thursday that cuts in state funding are headed their way.

        “There will be some pain going around,” the Democratic governor told small town leaders at a conference in Cromwell Wednesday.

        “It is probably unlikely that we are going to be able to hold cities and towns harmless,” Sharkey, D-Hamden, also told the crowd.

        Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey: ‘It is probably unlikely that we are going to be able to hold cities and towns harmless.’

        Municipal leaders are facing a different reality this year. Their funding was shielded from cuts for the last two years as the state closed a large budget deficit. In fact, the current biennial budget modestly increased town aid by giving town leaders a share of sales and real estate conveyance tax revenue worth about $50 million annually starting in 2011-12. It also increased education funding for towns in 2012-13 by $50 million.

        Not likely this time around.

        As Sharkey pointed out, there are few options left to close the $1 billion projected deficit for the upcoming fisc year that begins July 1.

        Twenty-two percent of the current $20.5 billion state budget is spent on cities and towns. That includes about $3.5 billion in grants, and just over $930 million in payments into the teachers’ pension program.

        • Malloy is clueless. He will raise tax rates again and the deficit will get larger, and the excuses will flow from Hartford.

          • Bart Shuldman

            As much as we focus on the state Westport is no different. Joseloff and others just decided that raising taxes was the answer. No work to stop OPEB. No work to really try and save money.

            Then the change came with the election. And some learned raising taxes is not the answer.

            We are driving senior citizens out of Westport with our higher and higher taxes. It effects our home prices.

            I will remain hopeful that whoever runs for First Selectman works to change to situation. And that we also hold those that would not lead and make the changes accountable and they not become our next leader.

  22. I’d vote for someone willing to put himself or herself out of a job- namely, change this anachronistic practice of hiring an amateur CEO every four years and hope it works out to hiring a professional manager to run the town. While we are at it have that manager report to a town-wide elected council of 9 people and dispense with the RTM. Somebody steps up and says they are willing to do that, they have my vote.

    • A “professional” town manager the reports to 9 people has no boss and no real motivation to solve any of the major problems confronting Westport. Why not a “professional” manager to run the state, or the country? Most of the problems we have now are a direction function of a lack of accountability which has been institutionalized deliberately. A professional manager would not change that problem

      • It is corporate governance, pure and simple. Shareholders elect a board of directors, BoD hires a CEO. If you can hire him, you can fire him- the essence of accountability. Yes, keep a first selectman for kissing hands and shaking babies, but hire a CEO to manage the $200MM business. And pick your favorite odd number, 3,5,7,9 whatever for the town council, which must NOT be the board of finance. Everything isn’t about money after all.

        • The CEO cannot “manage” the business if he does not have the authority to create the budget and allocate assets. Giving someone responsibility for managing the business but not the authority creates an untenable position.

  23. How about John Kluchnick? When I was a lifeguard at Compo he was always trying to get me to sign his petition to get him on the ballot.

  24. Wise Old Owl…John McCarthy is not a troublemaker but simply an extremely wise middle aged fiscally responsible elected official who cares about Westport’s bottom line. Yes, he is candid and sometimes “in your face”, but is never afraid to speak from both his heart and his head… You never have to second guess where John stands on an issue whether or not you agree or disagree with him. How refreshing!!!

  25. There is no doubt a professional town manager would be the ultimate and most responsible course of action the town could take and then the Selectman can do what they are generally most qualified for…shaking hands and kissing babies!

    • The BofF should be the committee if they care for the town and not politics. They should understand the issues and drive to protect us. The recent election showed how the town felt the BofF led by Helen was not doing that. And I agree and so should everyone. The issues were there. Just not managed. Now we have a BofF that is staring to command attention. No rubber stamp for Barons South. New auditors that have Governement experience for pension and medical plans. A new 401k replacing the draining pension plan for new hires.

      But the residents need to stay on top of this or it gets bad again. The world has changed. These benefits will zap all the town funds if not scrutinized.

    • Lastly-a good Finance Manager who has dotted line responsibility to the BofF and is held accountable. We should over pay for that position. Hold the person accountable so that they know there is trouble if they just do and say what the Selectman wants. Use a claw back provision like we have in the private sector.

      • “…dotted line responsibility…” is no responsibility. Without a reorganization of the town’s governmental structure, one more body in City Hall isn’t going to make much difference.

        • I truly appreciate your opinion. Just we both agree the position of finance manager already exists.

          • The “finance manager” does not have authority to do what needs to be done. No CFO would settle for the limitations imposed on the “finance manager” in Westport.

  26. Just saw this posting. I enjoyed reading the comments and the various ideas. Thank you Dan for proving this vehicle. A few things to keep in mind:

    1) town executive – certainly an interesting idea… While we do not have a professional town executive, we do have professionals running each department. These executives remain in their positions regardless of the elected Selectman. Examples are the fire chief, police chief, parks and rec director, public works director, human services director, finance director and controller, and of course the School Superintendent (largest part of budget). We’re lacking a stand-alone Human Resource director, but working to consolidate that function with the BOE. I have gotten to know these executives over the past 8 years (new Finance director just last year) and have been impressed with their professionalism.

    2) voters will vote for a “team” of First and Second Selectman. The losing team leader takes the Third Selectman spot. For example, if Jim Marpe ran against Helen Garten and won, Helen would become Third Selectman. This would be a wonderful combination since major employee contracts are coming up over the next two years and we could use the legal expertise. I don’t really know Jonathan Steinberg well so cannot comment on that combination.

    3) OPEB and pension – we’ve reformed these plans over the past year; however, the remaining ones are governed by contracts that must expire first (try to open earlier when possible, but requires consent of the unions). We do have a new qualified actuarial firm and we’ve carefully managed our portfolio to better health.

    Avi Kaner
    Chairman, Board of Finance

    • Thank you for the information, but the reality of the budget and spending levels remain. There is some lack of confidence in the current method for determining spending levels and the allocation of funding. The current set of professionals may be excellent, but the end result might not be, given the dispersion of budgetary authority.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Avi. Thanks for the note. I see the new 401k plan for non union employees that will replace the pension plan. While Westport will experience more costs upfront, we eliminate the guarantee return that has devastated most pension plans.

      Can you help us understand what was done to eliminate OPEB? Have we elimated it for union workers? Non union workers? What has replaced it? This is a medical guarantee and any insight would be appreciated

      Also-given our aging workers how do you see our existing OPEB costs going? How much higher will the obligation go? If we have not eliminated it for union workers how does it effect the town?

      This year we are funding the liability with a lot more money. Somehow Josleoff found millions in the budget. Does that show us how much control is in place and how much oversight there is or how much extra money sits in the budget?

      Thanks for what you do and all the BofF does. You all are donating your time to help Westport.

      • Thanks Bart. We have a strong Board of Finance working well together. We unanimously 1) recommended to fully fund our obligations instead of “kicking them down the road” and 2) lowered the discount rate assumptions to a reasonable level (unlike other towns and the State).

        I suggest that readers who are interested in better understanding our town finances, OPEB/Pension position, and financial strategy read the following presentation. I presented this to the RTM during the 2012 budget cycle.

        Here is a link to it: http://www.westportct.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=3082

        • Bart Shuldman

          Avi. Thanks for the link. Great news on eliminating OPEB for some new employees.

          Your dedication to tackle these issues as the Chairman and the work the BofF is doing together is truly appreciated. It was clearly needed.