Immediately after taking office last November, newly elected First Selectman Jim Marpe tried to hire his campaign manager for a $125,000 job that was never advertised and didn't exist. It was a huge surprise from someone whose party usually stands for cutting spending and reducing the size of government, and so he got lots of bipartisan pushback from all over Westport.
On Tuesday, the administration announced it has hired Marpe's deputy campaign manager for a similar position they're calling an operations director. In truth, the job seems to be a combination of special projects and internal consulting, with little or no line management responsibility over town departments and no clearly defined measures of success.
But the question from last fall is still relevant: Is this position needed? Sadly, the answer is almost certainly no.
During the campaign we were promised "two CEOs" -- Marpe and his second-selectman running mate Avi Kaner -- who would be "hands on managers." Since then we've been told that we need to add a permanent, highly-paid, senior person to help out. For 16 years, we had Diane Farrell and Gordon Joseloff doing the day-to-day heavy lifting, and the town ran well. When they needed help on special projects they got it from their running mates and other volunteers.
Yet now we're on track to add a half-million dollars in personnel expense over the next four years with no demonstrated benefit to the town. Going forward, we should demand that this position pay for itself in hard savings -- not in grants that get spent on other things, but real, documented savings from streamlined operations, increased revenues, or reduced expenditures.
A year from now, when the next budget is put forward, we should ask ourselves, "Was this position really needed? Did this make sense? Did we really save any money?" And if the answer is no, then we need to make the tough decision and go back to running the town the way it's always been done.
Three selectmen. Nonpartisan staff. Lots of dedicated and talented volunteers.
John Hartwell, chairman
Westport Democratic Town Committee