The is the second part of Arthur Isaacson's profile on the role and responsibilities of a first selectman, specificially Clinton's First Selectman Willie Fritz. For the first part of the article, click .
Hello again. On shadow day, Wednesday, July 13, at 8am, we met at to travel to East Lyme for an 8:30am Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Association (CRERPA) conference and presentation on regionalizing municipal health insurance.
It was attended by members of the nine towns in the association, with town financial managers, superintendents of education and a representative of the State Office of Policy and Management in attendance. Each town now must decide whether to participate and get their respective boards (Selectmen and Finance) approval before they may do so. If this does become a reality, in effect they must create a new insurance company with all the preparation, legal work and attendant logistics.
After the conference ended at 10:30am we returned to Clinton. Before he could even get to his office, his administrative assistant intercepted him with a slew of documents that required his signature.
Then we went into his office for an 11:00am WSAM (William Stanton Andrews Memorial Town Hall) building committee meeting. Architects Jacunski Humes presented to the committee for discussion, conceptual budgets for the needed exterior restoration and related work on town hall.
At 1pm, four young friends and Morgan schoolmates of Zack Bernier (project named ) met with the first selectman and representatives of the police, public works and parks departments, to discuss their detailed plans for a music festival. This event is planned for August 6 at the and is to raise funds for their recently seriously injured friend. Issues of safety and security, traffic flow, health needs (ie: ambulance) first aid station, water stations, parking and so on were discussed.
I need to make a personal observation here that has nothing to do with the first selectman, or for that matter this article. Watching these four clean cut, intelligent, focused young men discuss their plans with the town officials in a studied and professional way, was a pleasure. I remember thinking, "If these young men represent the future, I'm feeling better about it than I have in a long time."
Back to the subject. The meeting broke up about 2:30pm, but no sooner had they cleared the room than the normal stream of calls and visits resumed.
Jane Welch of the stopped in to discuss one of their projects; a resident on the Indian River who had called earlier regarding some vegetation clearing along the Clinton Landing stopped in; Lois Ruggierio of Park and Recreation came by to discuss arrangements for ; a citizen called regarding whether an empty commercial building in town could be used for a COSTCO; Kevin Kane (Clinton's new Finance Manager) had a question regarding a vender matter... and so it went.
On other days, there are calls for fuel assistance, blight complaints, eviction notices, walkway painting, flooding, street sightline situations, broken trees and all the other human conditions for which the average citizen turns to their government for help.
Each call or visit must be carefully handled and/or redirected to the appropriate agency. It's all in a day's work for the person at the top. Later in the day, the first selectman, who is active in coaching and Little League, was joined by one of his three sons. They left to deliver supplies and food for an event, but the first selectman returned for the weekly Selectman's meeting at 7pm.
This week's meeting found the coming to discuss safe routes to schools and other matters on the agenda. Clinton's Board of Selectmen meet every week, unlike most of the towns in Connecticut. Also unlike other towns, it meets at 8am in the morning the first and third Wednesday's of the month and at 7pm all other Wednesdays. This was a twelve hour day.
Another way Clinton's Board of Selectmen is different than other towns, as I have written before, is in the way they are all "hands on" involved with boards, commissions and projects all over town, including the First Selectman.
What else does the First Selectman need to prepare for and attend to in addition to the 42 town agencies he is automatically a member of?
Here is a partial list:
- CRERPA – CT River Estuary Regional Planning Agency – 2nd Tuesday of the month
- CRVCEO – CT River Valley Council of Elected Officials – Last Wednesday of the month
- CRAHD – CT River Area Health District, Board of directors – 2nd Monday of the month
- COST – CT Council of Small Towns
- Lower CT Valley Selectmen’s Association – 2nd Wed of the month
- Middlesex County Revitalization Commission – 3rd Tuesday of the month
- Bike & Pedestrian Alliance Committee – 2nd Monday of the month
- Accounting Policy & Procedures Committee – Every Tuesday
- WSAM - William Stanton Andrews Memorial Town Hall building Committee - Every Tuesday
- First Selectman’s Task Force – 5 times per year
- Police Pension Committee
- Negotiating committees for union and non union contracts
- Workforce - Alliance Board of Directors
- Governors - Council for Local Public Health - Quarterly
As is my usual routine, I ask the same four questions of each person during an interview. Here are First Selectman Fritz's answers.
What is the most difficult part of the job? "I can't satisfy everyone," was his quick reply. "Someone will always be unhappy about decisions or results, so all I can do is make the decisions I think are best for the town."
What is the most frustrating part of the job? "When someone needs help and there's nothing I can do."
What is the best part of the job? No hesitation there. "When I can help. When I can get something done that needs to be done. Whatever it happens to be."
What would he change if he could, with the magic wand I give all my interviewees? "Himself" was the answer, only in different words. What he actually said was "I came in like a bulldozer. Brute force, trying to do everything myself. I need to delegate more. I'm working on it, but it's a double edge sword. When the person I delegate to doesn't get it right, I'm still the one that gets the blame, as it should be."
Is this a part time job, as many believe? Not hardly as far as I can see, but you be the judge. I can tell you that when I was running for the office, I considered it to be a 24/7 obligation. As a selectman I was out to meetings most nights of the week as was the first selectman. On the few occasions that severe storms and power outages caused concerns for residents close to the shoreline, I know the current first selectman went personally from house to house informing residents of the problems, and outlining the steps being taken to resolve them. When the town hall has been opened as a warm shelter in the winter or as a cool retreat for citizens during extremely hot and humid weather or during power failures, the first selectmen has been there. I can't think of any important event in town, day or night that you won't find the first selectman in attendance, so at least in his case, he doesn't think it's a part time job.
Is the job so simple that anyone can do it, as some people think?... Can they negotiate labor contracts, handle interpersonal problems, address FOI law compliance, create budgets, do personnel reviews and run interference between 42 agencies and over 400 Town and Board of Ed employees and get elected?
There's no doubt that 50 years ago life was much simpler. Today we live in a world of very complex laws, restrictions, guidelines, computers, email and document storage, multiple calendars and electronic security. It takes the dedicated effort and cooperation of many volunteers and professionals to get the job done. At election time we elect leaders who can make the tough decisions and get the job done, but additionally in small towns like Clinton there are other requirements. Since no intermediate layers exist, the buck stops with the first selectman, who must do all the things we've just discussed. A utility player, to use a sports analogy, who must be able to switch roles as the situation requires. Such an easy job anyone can do it? You decide.
Until next time,