Election 2017: Board of Finance race focuses on Westport’s financial security
Updated 4:24 pm, Monday, November 6, 2017
WESTPORT — With Hartford’s financial situation still precarious, Westport’s next Board of Finance bears responsibility for Westport’s fiscal security.
The Board of Finance consists of seven members elected for four-years terms. As per state minority representation rules, no more than four members on the BOF may be from the same political party.
Four candidates are competing for three spots in this year’s race: incumbents, Lee Caney and Brian Stern, both Democrats, and challengers Andrea Moore and Vik Muktavaram, both Republicans.
A tax lawyer by trade, Caney has lived in Westport for 11 years. Caney said his profession, which combines both legal and financial experience, has been valuable the four years he’s already served on the finance board.
A self-proclaimed “big advocate of the schools,” Caney has three kids: one in Long Lots Elementary School, one in Bedford Middle School, and one in Staples High School.
“I’m always talking to people and I really enjoy it because I find out what everyone’s thinking and it helps me to do a better job on the Board of Finance,” said Caney, who likes to chat with fellow commuters on the train into New York City and while attending his kids’ activities.
“It’s important to think about all Westporters,” Caney said.
If re-elected, Caney said he’ll encourage public-private partnerships, such as those that have allowed for development projects at the Levitt Pavilion and Westport Library.
The current board chairman is seeking his third term and Stern said he hopes to make Westport an “island of fiscal stability” in a state, which he said, is “a sea of financial mismanagement.”
Throughout his 36-year tenure at Xerox Corporation, Stern served as finance director and later president of four divisions within the company, all while helping his wife raise three boys in town.
Even more than his financial and management experience, Stern said he’s been a successful board member because, “I’ve been here for 40 years. I think I know what makes this town great and inspiring and I bring that to bear at every meeting.”
Over the past eight years, Sterns said he’s helped ensure Westport’s financial stability, all the while “making decisions logically with data, listening to folks about what the priorities really are, and operating efficiently.”
“At the same time, we haven’t forgotten to invest,” said Stern, who added that he is especially proud of the board’s investments to aid seniors.
A born-and-bred Westporter, Moore hopes to leverage her experience in the financial industry and involvement with Westport’s schools to promote cost-savings on the finance board.
Moore, who’s waging her first run for a spot on the board, worked at Salomon Brothers, Lehman Brothers, Bankers Trust, and Paine Webber before leaving the financial industry in 2006.
Moore and her husband moved to Westport 15 years ago to raise their three daughters, currently in elementary and middle school. Upon returning to town, Moore became deeply involved in education and said if she were to do it again, she may have become a school principal. Moore served on the board of A Child’s Place Preschool, the Saugatuck Elementary School PTA and the Staples High School Tuition Grants Committee. Two years ago, Moore ran for and won a spot on the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) from the District 9.
“I think understanding the schools is such an important piece of a role on the Board of Finance because while you’re not on the Board of Education, you do approve the budget,” Moore said.
While Moore insists education should be the town’s No. 1 priority, she said the finance board has to consider the town’s seniors, and acknowledge that only 30 percent of Westporters have children in the public school system.
A management consultant focusing on strategy, risk and finance, Muktavaram has served on the school board in an appointed position since 2016.
Born and raised in India, Muktavaram, moved to Westport with his wife and two daughters in 2009. Upon moving to Westport, Muktavaram said he “literally fell in love with the town and wanted to get involved.”
Muktavaram is forgoing his position on the Board of Education to pursue one on the finance board because he said he is “concerned about what’s going on with the state, not on a year-to-year basis, but long-term.”
If elected, Muktavaram said he will focus on lowering the town’s longer-term cost structures through collaboration between the town and schools. For example, Muktavaram said he wants to take advantage of the town’s good financial state and the low cost of capital to buy the town’s school buses instead of leasing them, which he said would lower the town’s long-term spending on school buses.