Wilton finance board hears proposal for new town administrator

WILTON — Members of the Finance Council were in favor of a proposal from first coach Lynne Vanderslice to delegate some of her responsibilities to a new chief city administrator.

On Tuesday, Vanderslice highlighted the benefits of handing over the day-to-day management operations of the town leader to a new recruit. This, in turn, would allow her and future first-elects to focus their attention on national and regional issues, which she says have become a bigger part of the office’s role.

Citing state and federal demands from local municipal leaders who serve on the Western Connecticut Council of Governments and the Southwest Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, “The position of the first elected has become more demanding and more complex,” Vanderslice said.

She also noted a degree of responsiveness that she has been asked to provide from residents who expect near-constant contact in an age of electronic communications.

“They expect the first selectman to be responsive and accessible through multiple means of communication,” she explained, “and the Board of Selectmen wants the first selectman to be responsible in that way.”

Vanderslice added that a city administrator could provide some semblance of consistency when administrations change after elections.

While she had intended to raise the subject with the Board of Selectmen during the next budget cycle, the impending departure of Anne Kelly-Lenz prompted her to push the discussion forward.

Kelly-Lenz was hired as joint city and school financial director at Wilton in November 2015. She is expected to become New Canaan’s new financial director.

Finance Council member Chris Stroup said he approved of the creation of the position of a new chief city administrator to help Wilton’s first elected official.

Like Vanderslice, President Michael Kaelin noted that fewer people are serving voluntarily in government, requiring more professionals to be paid to do the job.

“It’s really become too big of a job for just one person,” he said. “We need a professional administrator and we need to release the first person selected to do the things your constituents really expect of you.”

The challenge, however, is figuring out how to pay for the new position, Kaelin said.

Vanderslice estimated the role would cost between $185,000 and $205,000 per year. She said the cost could be offset by both a reduction in pay for the first person selected and “efficiencies and savings that would need to be identified and executed” by the new hire.

The Board of Selectmen will decide at their January 18 meeting whether to go ahead with the change, she said.