Meet Sara Harris: Town’s New Operations Director

The position of town operations director — vacant since Dewey Loselle resigned in November — has been filled.

Sara Harris moved into Town Hall earlier this month. She’s learning the ins and outs of local government, meeting elected and appointed officials, and discovering what makes Westport move.

The town of 25,000 is a big change from her previous job. Most recently, in New York City’s Office of Management and Budget, she focused on financial efficiency — for a city of 8 million.

Previously, as chief of staff for New York’s Department of Parks & Recreation Capital Division she oversaw an office of 400 people, responsible for the design and construction of all parks and parkland projects.

Sara Harris

And as a member of the city’s Franchise Concession Review Committee, Harris approved hundreds of agreements involving cable television, Central Park and a golf course.

Yet Westport is not new territory. Harris is a Connecticut native. As a student at Fordham University, where she majored in urban studies and political science, she often got off the train here. She’d meet her mother to shop, or head to Compo Beach.

“I always liked this town,” Harris says.

She loved her job in New York City — the work, her supervisors, the opportunity it provided for professional growth — but she did not want to live there forever.

When she saw Westport’s position posted in January, she says, “I had to apply.”

Her role here, Harris explains, is “to be the person to step back, look at strengths and weaknesses in how things are done, and suggest improvements.” Coming from the outside, she says, “I can notice things that others may not.”

She’ll look at performance measures, seeking greater efficiencies. One example is consolidating municipal operations with those of the Board of Education. Another is joining with surrounding towns like Fairfield, Norwalk, Stamford and Greenwich, searching for economic opportunities.

Harris’ goals are to “do good, and make improvements for the greater good.”

Sara Harris in her new Town Hall office. A painting of the old Town Hall — now Jesup Hall restaurant — hangs behind her.

“I’m in a new environment,” she notes. “I’m going to have to understand the history, culture and codes of a new place.”

But, Harris adds, “That’s also a plus. As I get to know people and find my place, I can make a good impact.”

She describes her style as “accommodating and understanding. I try to see where people come from, and figure out the legal and policy reasons why they do what they do. I’m patient.”

In New York’s bureaucracy, she was “one person among many. Here, I’m ready and trained to look at details, and be able to apply them on a more macro level.”

And, Harris — who earned a master’s urban policy analysis and management from New  School University —  says, “there really are a lot of similarities among all governments,” whether big city or small town.

She has moved from New York to another small town: Monroe. There, she and her husband spend most of their time with their kids: a 4-year-old and 2-month-old.

“They’re my happiness,” Harris says.

6 responses to “Meet Sara Harris: Town’s New Operations Director

  1. Michael Calise

    Welcome to Westport Sara, I trust Jim has made a great decision. Hopefully your choice to move to a small Connecticut town is a measure of the importance you place on the many aspects of community life in a town struggling to maintain its local identity.

  2. Dick Lowenstein

    What is her annual salary?

  3. John Karrel

    Impressive profile/background. Westport seems very fortunate. Good luck, Sara.

  4. Welcome. Know that everyone looks over your shoulder and critiques — often w/o knowledge of all the particulars.* If you thought NYC was tough, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

    I personally play whack-a-mole w/ all my bills, looking for ways to cut expenses w/o suffering — glad we have a professional to do the same for this town.

    * NOTE: Curiously, people who haven’t lived here in 20+ years also give their opinion.

  5. Bart Shuldman

    Welcome to Westport. With all fiscal crisis with our state government, your ability to streamline and institute cost ‘take-out’ will be very helpful as Westport losses all funding from Hartford. In addition, Governor Malloy is trying to push down state costs onto towns and cities in CT such as 1/3 of the Teachers pension costs ($6-8 million in additional costs ro Westport).

    I am hopeful you will be able to ” look at performance measures, seeking greater efficiencies. One example is consolidating municipal operations” between municipal and board of education departments. This seems to be a huge opportunity for Westport to save costs while not impacting our schools or town services. Hopefully the leaders of the board of education and Westport Superintendent will cooperate.

    Please keep us updated on your success with what appears to be a win-win for Westport tax payers.