In naming his former deputy campaign manager to a new, $90,000-a-year town job, First Selectman Jim Marpe last week made a bold but politically sensitive move to improve town government's efficiency and productivity.
Marpe named Dewey Loselle, a former government consultant and ex-RTM member, as town operations director, a new position authorized by the Board of Finance and the RTM.
Pledging to reform government has been a staple of many a candidate. Keeping such promises has been another thing.
I know this from my own experience, serving as press secretary to the late New York Mayor John V. Lindsay in the 1960s, when he sought to improve city-government efficiency by creating super-agencies to which city departments reported. It was an extra layer of bureaucracy that removed the mayor from direct contact with many of his department heads.
I draw this analogy because I hope Marpe will continue to have department heads report to him so he can judge first-hand the pulse of progress -- and problems -- in various town agencies. By creating a director of operations, he is going out on a limb as Lindsay did -- although on a much smaller scale. Loselle can help Marpe coordinate the work of town agencies, but his role should be limited. There is only one first selectman.
The fact that a Republican team is replacing two Democratic administrations after 16 years should not be a concern. A changing of the guard is healthy in a grass roots democracy. As Lindsay once said: "There is no Democratic or Republican way to clean the streets." This is true Westport today. Traditionally, the first selectman, whose salary is $101,475, has been responsible for running all aspects of town government -- expect for the schools.
Loselle told this columnist in an e-mail exchange that his duties would include efforts to streamline government and generally improve the efficiency and performance of all local boards and departments.
The total operating budget for Westport (including schools) is $198.2 million; the town portion is $76.6 million.
"On a general level," Loselle said in an email, "some of the things we will be looking to do will include: improving the performance of operating units in the delivery of services to citizens; examining new and improved ways of utilizing information technology; seeking opportunities of consolidating and sharing services within the town and Board of Education and between Westport and other jurisdictions; seeking new grant opportunities; pursuing innovative energy conservation opportunities, which exist in town and school buildings."
Loselle, 63, is well-qualified for the job. He has served as a professional consultant with more than 100 Connecticut state and local governments, and was a member of a state commission under former Democratic Gov. William A. O'Neill, which suggested ways to state government more efficient.
But he is the second campaign aide Marpe has named to a new job in his administration -- the first appointee resigning in the face of opposition after just a couple of days in the job.
In a letter to the editor last Friday, he noted: "Immediately after taking office last November, newly elected First Selectman Jim Marpe tried to hire his campaign manager (Bob Zappi) 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."
Hartwell contended the same question that arose in the Zappi appointment remains relevant: "Is this position needed? Sadly, the answer is almost certainly no," he wrote. "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."
Marpe, 67, is a former executive with Accenture, which has a worldwide practice in financial-services mergers and acquisitions. His appointment of Zappi drew fire from a number of town observers.
Marpe then wisely named Pete Wolgast -- a respected, former executive assistant to First Selectman Doug Wood -- to a selection committee that would review candidates for an operations director's job and make a recommendation to the first selectman.
I suggested to Wolgast that picking a Democrat or unaffiliated voter would give the administration some bipartisan credibility. But the search committee recommended Marpe's No. 2 campaign official. That has raised some eyebrows, but I am convinced that Loselle can provide a public service to the town in this age of increasing technical and administrative complexity.
In sum, I agree with Hartwell's suggestion that the job be revisited in a year. Having served in a reform-minded Republican administration in New York, I believe we should give Marpe a chance to prove that reform can work in a small Connecticut town where there are no big city kingmakers -- only citizens who want to govern themselves.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer, and his "Out of the Woods" appears every other Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org