New operations director brings NYC experience, passion for policy
WESTPORT — Connecticut native Sara Harris had been looking for a bigger role in a smaller town.
Harris, who began as Westport’s operations director July 12, recounted stopping with her mother in Westport when driving to college and having an appreciation for the town.
“Operations work is really the work I’ve always wanted to do,” the 37-year-old said. “I’ve always wanted to come back into Connecticut and a smaller environment where I can make a bigger change.”
Originally from New London, Harris graduated from Fordham University, earned a Master’s degree in policy analysis and management at the New School University. She went on to work for the Bloomberg administration in New York City, first in the revenue department and then in the Office of Management and Budget, overseeing billions in revenue. She labored to find inefficiencies and advance technology for the city.
But Harris said her longtime goal had been to return to her home state and apply what she learned in New York City. She recently moved to Monroe with her family, including her 2-year-old and 4-month-old children, and then saw the “ideal” job opening in Westport.
“It’s been a complete pleasure,” Harris said. “I love New York City, but I’ve been ready for a more structured life. I just love being closer to nature, just obviously quality of life here and just being in an environment workwise where I can look at my assignment on a more macro level. As opposed to being one of 300 people working on a huge project, I can actually really get involved in the bigger picture so that I’m most excited about.”
She has been working to understand how Westport functions as a town and initial projects include looking at measuring departments’ performances, potentially consolidating Board of Education and administrative functions in the future as staffing changes and an economic development initiative with nearby municipalities. She will also be tasked with identifying potential grants and working on communication between residents and the town’s top office.
Harris is filling a vacancy opened when Dewey Loselle resigned as operations director abruptly in November. The position — which comes with a $90,000 per year salary — was implemented by First Selectman Jim Marpe, though his decision to fill the paid position unlike some of his predecessors drew criticism.
“The option is there,” Marpe said, noting the town charter outlines the operations director post. “Quite frankly, the number of initiatives and projects that need to be accomplished in Westport require the attention of someone on a full-time basis.”
Marpe said he was pleased to find a candidate with a “tremendous background of governmental processes and understanding” that he believes will be beneficial for Harris in her role.
Harris added that she believes her salary will pay for itself.
“I think it’s extremely important right now especially given the fiscal environment in the state and the uncertainty that the localities have, and I think that it’s really smart planning to get someone on board to look at the way things are done and step back,” Harris said. “I do believe and have felt strongly from the beginning that in this role, the work that I will do will pay for my salary between the grant-writing and looking for savings. Even long-term advances in technology those things all have savings that my goal is to make that worthwhile.”
Describing herself as family-oriented, Harris added that her time off is spent primarily with her children, and from her past stops in Westport, she has a love and appreciation for the town.
“I do have an appreciation for the town and I do think it’s a great place to live and raise a family,” she said. “So far what I see is the people who work here really care about what they do and they want to make a change. I think I’m in a good environment with great people to do some quality work.”