The 1st selectman’s office is not usually a place of controversy. And the 1st week in office for a new 1st selectman is usually a time for feel-good, passing-of-the-gavel photo ops.

This was not a usual week at Westport Town Hall.

To recap:

Last Friday, recently sworn-in 1st Selectman Jim Marpe named Bob Zappi — his former campaign manager, former Republican Town Committee head and a business marketing executive — as his operations manager. A similar position existed under Republican 1st selectmen Doug Wood and Joe Arcudi, but had not been filled for 16 years under Democrats Diane Farrell and Gordon Joseloff.

The position — paying $125,000 a year — was immediately criticized. Westporters wondered why it was needed; why Marpe had not mentioned the idea during the campaign; why he appointed a political friend and not an experienced municipal executive to the post, and why the position was never advertised.

Yesterday, Zappi withdrew his name. He also resigned as “transition leader” for the 1st and 2nd selectmen.

He said that “the discussion has been focused more on me rather than the benefits that this new leadership style would bring” to Westporters. “The outcry from the Democrats was predictable and expected. After all, it has been 20 years since a Republican was elected First Selectman.”

Zappi noted, “I believe competition is healthy and that 2 viable parties are better than one and that my contribution to the political process was positive for Westport.”

Bob Zappi (right) and Mitt Romney.

Bob Zappi (right) and Mitt Romney, last year.

Marpe said, “In my enthusiasm to get going for Westport, I moved quickly. The opportunity to take advantage of Bob’s 30 year track record of helping Fortune 500 companies enhance their organization and operations was compelling.” He cited Zappi’s “proven abilities, knowledge of town government and the people who lead it.”

Marpe added that the appointment was “viewed as partisan in nature, which was never the intention. Given the perception Bob felt that he could not make the contribution he wanted to both Westport and my administration. Therefore, he has chosen to withdraw. This action is a testament to Bob’s character and devotion to the Town of Westport.”

Marpe stressed that he and 2nd Selectman Avi Kaner will fulfill their promise of “bi-partisan consensus…Further reorganization will reflect that commitment. Our broad-based support during the recent campaign clearly demonstrated the desires of Westporters to put the town ahead of politics. We appreciate your continued support as we work together to move Westport forward.”

As I said, quite an unusual week for Westport.

Westport's 1st and 2nd selectmen: Jim Marpe (left) and Avi Kaner.

Westport’s 1st and 2nd selectmen: Jim Marpe (left) and Avi Kaner.

I like Jim Marpe. I said so the day after the election:

He and his running mate, Avi Kaner, are true Westporters. In everything they’ve done — politically, as well as through their many volunteer activities — they’ve put the best interests of this town first.

They’ve built up enormous reservoirs of good will and respect, among a broad swath of voters. The results prove that. This is a Democratic town — in terms of registration numbers — but their win shows that many voters crossed party lines because they liked what they’ve seen, and heard, from these 2 Republicans.

Jim and Avi will work tirelessly for this town. They will do it by working with Democrats, with Save Westport Now members, with independents, and with anyone else who is willing to work with them.

The intense criticism from Democrats and independents over Zappi’s appointment resulted, I think, because it followed so swiftly all the talk of bipartisanship — and because it happened so quickly, without any indication that such a job was even under consideration. Some of the criticism was intensely personal — more vituperative and nasty than I’ve heard in a long time.

But some Republicans, too, felt the appointment was rushed and poorly handled.

The timing of the appointment may not have been great, but the timing of its resolution is. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We’ve got a 4-day weekend. Most of us will relax, enjoy time with friends and family, and give thanks for the many blessings that surround us in Westport.

Jim Marpe has 4 years — minus 1 week — to move our town forward, utilizing the talents and energies of every Westporter. I’m betting he will, and that this is the roughest week he’ll have as 1st Selectman.

If so, we’ll all be thankful for that.

34 responses to “Zapped

  1. Agree strongly that Zappi was the right man, at the right time for a much needed town “manager”. Unfortunately it was the circumstances of the timing that lead to the controversy. I am confident that Bob Zappi will continue to contribute his experience, his time and his skills to Westport. And the Marpe/Kaner Team will bring in the needed support team to make Westport more than it has been for the past 16 years.

  2. What a loss for the town on two counts. 1. The Westport First Selectman needs a coo like any company and 2. Westport is lucky to have a person with Bob’s capabilities wiling and able to serve as coo
    Shame on the people who objected

  3. Jim Marpe specifically said during at least three of his campaign debates that he was “going to be COO of Westport” – which is exactly what the job is. It’s a managerial/administrative position. That’s one of the reasons why so many people were upset over his hiring of Bob Zappi – as well as the obvious partisan and patronage issues. Jim went back on his word about being COO right out of the gate. A major blunder.

  4. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    What does Mitt Romney have to do with this? Does Mr. Zappi have something in his past to be a-Seamus-ed about? Is the dog warden job open in Westport? Does it pay $125K? Where can I get a roof rack for my station wagon with a built in chemical toilet? I need it NOW!!! I have a 19 hour drive to get to my turkey dinner and no stopping for doggy defecation. This whole holiday season is too stressful and my magic underwear is all in a bunch. When Irish (setter’s) eyes are smiling all the world seems bright and gay!!!!

  5. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    What this town needs is doggy day care at Mahackeno. Seamus for 1st Selectman in 2017!!!!!

  6. Stephanie Bass

    Is this town going to micromanage Marpe’s leadership? Do Democrats think a vitually $200,000,000 “company” can be run by 2 men? Should Marpe wait a few months to make a move away from what exists now?

    I think a disservice was done to Mr.Marpe and we need to give him some breathing room. So his first hire was a Republican — was the first hire supposed to be a Black/female/little person/albino/Democrat?

    • Thank you Stephanie. And by the way Jim is the only full time person. So actually one is managing our town. And all he wanted to do is get into the new role quickly with the help of someone he trusted. Who is a very successful businessman.

  7. Dan:
    Let’s set the record straight. It wasn’t the Democrats who forced Bob Zappi to step aside. It was prominent Republicans, members of the Republican Town Committee and members of the RTM who pressured Jim Marpe to make the decision. Bob Zappi was the architect of Jim Marpe’s campaign, along with other boards and commissions. His appointment, without any notice or discussion was perceived by residents across the town…Republicans, Democrats and Unaffiliated voters…for exactly what it was: political patronage. And that has no place in the Selectman’s office.
    That combined with the fact that although Mr. Zappi might have management experience he has no experience with municipal government for a job that was ultimately tantamount to a town manager.

    During the campaign and in a number of town debates Mr. Marpe and his running mate claimed to have over 40 years of management experience and voting for both would be electing two CEO’s for the price of one. Then why did we need another? And why would we be paying Mr. Zappi more than many of the hardworking department heads in Town Hall.

    Despite what you claim I haven’t read any personal attacks on Mr. Zappi. Although personal attacks have been Mr. Zappi’s trade mark for many years it wasn’t personal attacks that forced him to step aside. Even his press release announcing that he wouldn’t be assuming the responsibilities “blamed” the Democrats. That just isn’t based in fact. The comments against his appointment crossed party lines. Once again he using politics as his excuse and weapon. And that is precisely why it was inappropriate to have placed him in that position. Nor should he have a role, paid or unpaid in the Selectman’s office. The selectman’s office is not supposed to be the home base for a politcal party or political campaigns.

    Mr. Marpe made a number of wide reaching promises during the campaign. Everyone needs to stop pointing fingers and blame. Bringing Bob Zappi into Town Hall was clearly a serious misstep but now is the time for Jim Marpe to work with the extraordinary staff we have in Town Hall, the other two elected selectmen, town residents, as well as the various town boards and commissions to move Westport forward.
    Jim Ezzes

  8. What is truly missing is a focus on what should be looked at as a great decision by Jim to ‘get going quickly for Westport’. He is transitioning from campaign to our town leader and decided to move fast which could only benefit the residents. While we should have debated the compensation, which is fair and concerning, we all lost an opportunity for Jim to have the assistance of a very successful and smart business leader.

    This might have set a novel way for a newly elected First Selectman to get up to speed in their role. Just look at mayors and other elected officials to seen that they actually do the same thing.

    Jim was elected because he was going to be a leader. His decision showed just that. Again, the compensation should have been discussed, but the basic decision is solid and noteworthy.

    Jim trusted Bob and it made sense. If someone else had won and chose their trusted advisor we should have all applauded.

    I will hope that the decision Jim made does not get lost in the noise to make this political. With all that is quickly required for the First Selectman to do, is it beneficial to our town to have a smart and successful person assist in the transition? I say yes.

  9. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    Mitt had no management experience when he took over Bain Capital and no government experience when he took over Massachusetts. Seamus has lots of experience but he’s a dog so he can’t even get a warm place to poop on Thanksgiving. Life is not fair, but at least if he were 1st Selectman or dog warden he’d have Winslow Park.

  10. I am sorry to hear about Bob Zappi’s withdrawal. Although I voted for Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner in previous elections, I went for the Other Team this time around; regardless, I have high confidence in Jim and Avi’s management competence. After the benefits fiasco I don’t have to be convinced that an operations manager is needed.

    Given that all parties directly involved have acknowledged their mistakes and taken criticism to heart, I am disappointed that Jim Ezzes is trying to further politicize this situation and continue personal attacks. Like many Westporters, I vote for the person, not the Party, recognizing that all candidates are my neighbors and are doing their best to improve our town. I remain appreciative and grateful for their efforts.

  11. Dan,

    I have to comment on your observation that the criticism of Jim’s appointment of Mr. Zappi was more “vituperative and nasty” than you’d heard in a long time. I guess you didn’t follow the ridiculous, nasty attacks on my record and motives that popped up repeatedly during the recent campaign. However, I figured that I was an adult who chose to enter the political arena, that this comes with the territory nowadays, and that it was best not to respond. I have no regrets.

    On the other hand, I did find some of the comments leveled at a young student who made a mistake during “Political Signgate” surprisingly vituperative and nasty. Perhaps no malice was intended and everybody has the right to express an opinion, but, as someone has already pointed out, at the end of the day we are all neighbors. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone,

    Helen Garten

  12. I don’t see it as a partisan issue, but rather one of due process – the question is, was it appropriate to appoint someone into a highly paid, high profile, newly created position, without some kind of consultative vetting process? What are the norms and protocols for creating a new executive town position and approving the appointment(s)? What are the expectations for posting such a position and then next steps – or is such even expected or required? I think the answers to these questions would give context for evaluating the appointment. Certainly the optics caused concern, but it would also be interesting to have more context about what was appropriate…

  13. We all must remain thankful that we live in a country with democracy, free press, and of course with Dan Woog. Happy Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah to those celebrating. I’m waiting for Dan’s article on Thanksgivukkah in Westport! Warmest wishes to everyone.

    Avi Kaner

  14. It seems there is still some angry air left in the election-season balloon, even as some of the local “D” party leadership debate Dan’s point about the vituperative and nasty reaction, in strong terms (would seem to be kind of self-proving?)

    At the end of the day, the operations manager position exists under our Town Charter, and it was filled prior to the last two administrations. I recall no suggestion before now that the Town Charter be amended to remove the position or even critisism of earlier administrations which made use of the position. Hopefully, if and when Mr. Marpe again fills that position that decision won’t be met with the same angry, and dare I say partisan, air. It appears Jim simply wants to jump in and run the Town effectively and efficiently as he thinks is best – that’s precisely what he was elected to do. I hope we allow him to try, and then we can certainly judge him by the results of his efforts.

  15. Well, let’s see who the non-partisan, open bidding, choice is for Town Counsel.

  16. This discussion is going downhill rapidly. I think it would be best to call it a day and get back to the spirit of the season – Thanksgiving – and being grateful for the many blessings we here in Westport enjoy every day.

  17. Just in case anyone wanted to stick to the facts. Before reading below-wishing everyone a Happy, Healthy and Safe Thanksgiving.

    The First Selectman may delegate such authority as may be necessary to other Selectmen or to administrative assistants and may employ an Operations Manager who shall serve at will and may be delegated the authority to supervise such areas of town government, excepting police and fire departments, and public schools, as the First Selectman may determine

  18. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    As Seamus would say, from experience upon the roof:, “it always runs downhill”. Especially when you’re given a full course turkey dinner and then denied access to a facility. Still can’t figure out what Mitt Romney has to do with this, Dan?
    Happy Thanksgiving and a Merry Black Friday to all!!!!

  19. Dick Lowenstein

    The operations manager position did not exist prior to 2000. It was added to the charter by the 2000 Charter Revision Commission. Before that, the charter sentence ended with “administrative assistants.” For the full wording, see the town charter, section C4-3 (excerpted above in another comment)

  20. The position “Operations Manager” was added to the Town Charter during its most recent revision. It was not covered in the Charter during the Wood and Arcudi administrations. If someone is hired to serve as operations manager for the town that person may be entitled to serve after the current administration leaves office. Town employees who serve at the will of the First Selectman have a right to an appeal of dismissal. I believe there may have to be “cause.” It might have been worth while to consult the Town Attorney on this issue before moving ahead with Mr. Zappi’s appointment.

    I am pleased that Jim Marpe and Bob Zappi listened to the public and changed course. Hundreds of bright capable people have volunteered to serve the Town over the years. I hope Bob will share his expertise with Jim as the new administration moves forward. Best wishes to our new First Selectman and to the newly elected Board. My best wishes also to our dedicated Town employees. We are fortunate that all these folks-Selectmen and Town staffers as well as members of Boards and Commissions have chosen to work together to serve our Town.

    Happy Thanksgiving friends!

  21. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Why would anyone running for Town Selectman need a campaign manager? Is it really that complicated, that cutthroat? Also, I’m surprised that a City Manager position has only been in effect since 2000.

  22. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    As Seamus would say: “Only a half-wit would hang out with Mitt.” Hire Zappi, but pay him at 50% (Half-price for a half-wit, fair, right?) until he cleans up the dog-poop in Winslow Park. Get it? Hahahahahahahaha!!!!!

  23. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Well, from what I can understand here (and from many previous problem posts), Westport needs a top-notch “Operations Manager” and should pay he/she well. I assume Westport has a paid solicitor, paid parks and rec. head, paid garbage collectors, etc. all of whom the Manager deals with (as the Selectman’s duties seem nondescript). It’s no wonder that there are so many complaints. Or, do they only come from this blog’s entries?
    p.s Who cares about party affiliation?

  24. If hiring a Town COO (which many have argued for) was such a good idea, Jim should have campaigned on the idea, rather than waiting until after the election to name the head of the RTC to the position.

    This is not a matter of partisanship, but rather of a clearly self-inflicted wound – and hopefully it is an exception to the approach that will be taken in the future..

  25. Dan, where did Carolanne Curry’ s comments go? They are as usual, honest, brave and forthright. I returned to the comment section today and they seem to be missing.

  26. Stephanie Bass

    Am I the only one who was hartened that Mr.Marpe did not hire a $50,000 consultant to see if we needed a COO, or set up a committee to see if we needed at COO, he just hired one who he trusted to do the job. Apparently, he was allowed to do so, but I guess he didn’t realize he had to make known all his future moves before he was elected. Maybe, after talking to all the department heads, he thought that was a good way to go.
    Maybe he will be constrained in the future from making any bold moves. I do not mean to sound like an apologist for Mr. Marpe — who I do not know personally — but it seems to me many people are jumping on the guy before he’s shown his colors.

    PS — I heard a rumor that he was going to move his desk in the First Selectman’s office. Can we get a consensus on this?

  27. Stephanie, are you equating offering a $125,000 job to a political crony to moving a desk?

  28. Bart Shuldman

    Chris-sour grapes. Face it Jim Marpe won. And while we could debate the salary, having a successful businessman add to Marpe’s team would have been wonderful. Jim was elected as a leader. And leaders make decisions. And this decision was different and bright. Hopefully we can continue to attract successful business leaders willing to join our town hall-whether democratic or republican.