Letter: Brookfield Needs a Town Manager

Newer Brookfield resident Dan Smolnik crunches the numbers on hiring a town manager.

To the Editor:

My new home of Brookfield has on its ballot this November a question concerning the adoption of a Town Manager into the governance system. Reflection and some research have convinced me that this is not merely the right thing for a town to do for its residents, it is imperative for any town like Brookfield that hopes to meet the reality of expenses with something other than raising residential property tax rates year after year.

That is, if you want to raise revenue, you need to meaningfully increase the sources for it. Raising the rate on the residential base over and over again has an inevitable deleterious effect on its very purpose.

To attract commercial participants to a municipality, the town needs to offer value. Value, in the eyes of an enterprise owner, is a simple proposition of access to revenue minus the cost of that access. Businesses don’t contemplate moving from town to town every year to shop for the lowest tax rate and best access to highways and skilled employees. Rather, they find a place they like that appears to be committed to those qualities that make it attractive.

No municipal chief elected official can be counted on to be around for more than two years in Connecticut, except for the 18 towns whose leaders are elected for four-year terms. This results in a fiscal climate that can change, often dramatically, with the prevailing political tide. Volatility like this is a real, demonstrable cost to a business owner, one whose dimensions calculate to be exceptionally high.

I have examined how Town Manager-run towns have fared with increasing their equalized net grand lists (ENGL) over the last five years and compared that to the average of similarly sized towns in the state using data from the State Office of Policy and Management, which collects data on every town. It turns out that, from 2006 through 2010, the state average ENGL went down an average of about 1.6 percent per year, leaving the towns budgets balanced on the backs of fewer and fewer taxpayers. However, the performance of the 16 Town Manager managed towns whose populations are similar to those of Brookfield (out of 28 total Town Manager managed towns) reveals that the ENGL values went up an average of about 1.4 percent per year.  To be sure, the Town Manager towns took on more debt that other towns, on average, in the state, but they were able to raise debt and make investments in their schools, roads, bridges and other things that make it wonderful to live in a Connecticut town because they had a reliable and growing tax base that would support it. Government is not like a business – infrastructure needs to be planned and funded often years before it is deployed – but everyone needs the government to have business sense.

I have been proud to call Connecticut home since 1971 and have missed it whenever I was away for school or work.  I know many towns are not based on an agricultural economy anymore. Nor are they economically isolated.  Having a professional Town Manager, who can provide, consistency, predictability and value to the tax base is essential for Brookfield. I commend the voters of Brookfield to vote ‘Yes’ on question 1.

Dan M. Smolnik

Larry Samuel November 02, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Dan, there are more factors to consider. Town size and infrastructure are not the only factor for comparison of why Brookfield is not building commercial tax base: 1 Ellectorate, a large portion don't want ANY change. 2 Zoning Regulations: To restrictive, only in the last year has there been a "little" of obstruction for 4 corners development 3 Geographic: we are less than 30 square mile township with a unstable Still River and buildable area 4. Lack of Infrastructure as you mentioned. The greatest of that was water and the Rout 7 Bypass. Both of which took 30 years to resolve. The Water was fought by the ellectorate for many years and primarily finance by private developers, which the twon assumed the investment. A Town Manager can solve none of these problems and we have had a great number of dedicated Selectment, Finance, Zoning, Planning, Ecconomic, ect. committee member that have work hard to overcome the impeding factors but one that no one fully overcome is the ellectorate. With our current government charter we can spend, train, and hire more administrators. The Town Hall has never been a financial burden. Unfunded mandates on the School and Teachers unions have been a issue. I am against Town Manager position because it will only add expense and layer to the Hown Hall. We need to get the ellectorate to approve the plan to revitalize our commercial/Retail community, 4 Corners so we can change the Zoneing requirements to attract businesses.
Michelle November 02, 2012 at 07:31 PM
I totally agree with Mr. McGarrah and Mr. Samuel. Well said, gentlemen. Welcome to Brookfield Mr. Smolnik as you mentioned newly moving to town. Your research is not without merit. However, those statistics are only a small facet when looking at the big picture. We have a whole town history, a foundation of which our beloved town has been run on. It has been effective and most highly successful. Certainly hiring a town manager is not only innappropriate for a town like Brookfield but by you voting yes--Mr. Smolnik--you would be voting to silence your own voice. There would no longer be a public platform when concerns arise in our town. You will no longer have the right or ability to stand up and share your concerns with our local government. Not to mention by having a town manager it will cost you more money in taxes as well as more complicated tanglings of bureaucracy without any proof that Brookfield will benefit from such a drastic step. In fact, I know many people in town. Not one person I have spoken to thinks this is in Brookfield's best interest. NOT ONE! It is most importatnt to look at the big picture here, regarding this issue. This is merely one pane in an entire picture window.
Ray DiStephan November 03, 2012 at 12:16 AM
"Not one" person thinks the Town Manager would be a good idea, except for EVERY single member of the Charter Revision Commission that included Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; including members of the RTC and DTC. Outside of that and many, many people I have spoken to, "no one" thinks this is a good idea.
Michelle November 03, 2012 at 02:52 AM
Excuse me Mr. DiStephan. NOT ONE person in town that I have spoken to in person regarding the proposed Charter Revisions is in favor of such changes being made. I have spoken to a multitude of community members. Have I made myself clear to you, sir? Obviously, the Charter Revision Committee is is favor of it. That goes without saying. However, there is a whole community of voting Brookfield citizens who do not follow the public government platform. Actually, it has been most eye opening as to most hadn't a clue about such suggested changes to the Charter Revision. It was a pleasure to include them and educate them on the proposed changes, what those changes would mean to Brookfield as we know it and explain that the vote is just around the corner.
Ray DiStephan November 03, 2012 at 03:45 AM
So you haven't spoken with a single one of your fellow Brookfieders that served on the CRC and studied these recommendations more than anyone else in town? That's too bad.
Ron Jaffe November 03, 2012 at 12:36 PM
I've engaged people on all sides of the proposed charter revisions. I will observe that many of the people I talk to who I view as 'outside the beltway' (that is: not members of either party's town committee) see the proposals as reasonable and moderate improvements. These are Brookfielders who simply want local government to work more effectively, who don't care about political affiliation, who want actual progress in Four Corners, and who see an increase in voter involvement (questions 6 and 8) with no reduction of voter control with any of the other questions. While it is true that current and former selectmen have published their opposition to the charter changes, it is also true that current and former selectmen support these changes. I urge all to vote this Tuesday. I will be supporting the charter revision questions as moderate but important improvements.
Michelle November 03, 2012 at 03:09 PM
There is a distinct difference between a NEED or a WANT. Who needs a town manager? Not Brookfield. It is certainly NOT a need. Who WANTS a town manager? A select few in Brookfield who want more control and advantage to sway certain interests. That is IT in a nutshell. Manipulating the community into believing it will be so great for our town is a disservice to Brookfield. VOTE NO! Preserve the integrity and forum of our successful town government with the power given to the people!
Ryen November 03, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Please, Ray! Can you be any more obviously "political" and "partisan" as a town board member?? Not saying you have not done any good work for the town--I am sure you have. But please stop the baloney. What town the size of Brookfield and with any of the same basic characteristics of Brookfield--including a top-performing (if inefficient and union-burdened) education system--what town in Connecticut with UNDER 17,000 residents has a town manager - first selectman form of government? That is my first question. When we have SUCCESSFUL towns that are actually doing that, then we can start a conversation comparing apples to pears at least..... please! ;)
Ryen November 03, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Adding more government with this economy and this town transition point (Four Corners, Federal Road, etc.) is LUNACY. This comes under a Democrat First Selectman reign and a Democrat controlled Board for the first time in how many years? When exactly were the Democrats running this town and when did we need more government here in Brookfield??? Just does not add up, as follows:
Ryen November 03, 2012 at 07:39 PM
If anything, this play for a Town Manager (and some of the other charter changes) is a total play for more government--pure and simple--and actually an admission by some in town that Brookfield is BROKEN and cannot find a First Selectman who can effectively run town hall and the town. THAT is sad. But the deeper political motives of the relative Liberals in town are more vacuous and more sinister than even that.... ;) Does the phrase "more money" and "more bureaucracy and power" mean anything to anyone? A town of just over 15,000 people????? PLEASE! ;)
Jerry Friedrich November 05, 2012 at 07:06 AM
Mr. Smolnik, I thank you for your well thought out analysis and appreciate the research you have done. I believe when everyone contributes good research we all make better decisions. Unfortunately, I do not agree with the conclusions you have reached. I also have looked at the data and you can easily come to a difference understanding. As Mr. Samuels stated above, there are many local issues that effect the outcomes. I looked at the 5 closest towns to Brookfield with Town Managers ( usung the same data that I believe you used) and found some anomalies that effect your conclusions. For example, in Winchesters case, their ENGL was basically flat ( which if I understand your argument, makes them better than a town which has gone down) but their long term debt tripled and their Fund Balances dropped in 1/2.....not a good structure and they appear to have been penalized with a reduction in the debt rating. In comparing other towns to Brookfield, most of the other towns had similar percentage changes in spending and revenue. The big changes were in Fund Balances where Winchester and Plainville;s were cut in half, again, not a good situation and Southington was up 50% and Cheshire was up 15% both by reducing long term debt. Some are just using good fiscal habits like Brookfield. All the other towns were so far away from Brookfield that different market conditions exist.....And, by the way, no towns in Fairfield county have a Town Manager....does that say something in itself?
Jane Miller November 05, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Thank you for your analysis Mr. Smolnik. It is once again important to point out that the Town Manager would be an employee under the direction of the Board of Selectman, one of 18 stipulated in the Charter (see page 13 of the Charter Revision Commissions report on the town website). This list includes the Assessor, Controller, Chief of Police, Fire Marshall, Town Attorney, Tree Warden, Director of Parks and Recreation, and so on. My question to those opposed to a Town Manager is - did the form of our town government change when we added the Controller position to the charter years ago? If it did not, then why is the “spin” that our Town Meeting form of government will change with the hiring of a Town Manager? Did someone previously say “political” and “partisan”? And to respond to Mr. Friedrich, do all towns in Fairfield county have Town Meeting/Selectman forms of government? I am not sure what any of that means.
Jerry Friedrich November 05, 2012 at 05:48 PM
No, there are a variety of different structures used within Fairfield county but none are listed as "town managers" from the information I believe Mr. Smolnik used for his analysis. It is unclear from the information whether all the town referred to are truly Town managers in the form the charter provision while others like Westport have have Representative Town meeting which again is different.
Steven DeVaux November 08, 2012 at 10:44 AM
Well the Election is over. Now it's time to crack the whip on the First Selectman and get him back to work and earning the salary taxpayers are paying him. The people have spoken.
Ryen November 30, 2012 at 12:40 PM
Great job, Michelle! Your points are cogent, concise, rational, well-written, direct, and refreshingly "honest"--yet still simple or basic enough to be understood. That is more than I can say for the "politicians" above commenting on this OpEd piece. This Charter revision was CRUSHED at the polls. It is an utter JOKE to have a town in Connecticut with just barely over 15,000 population having a First Selectman-Town Manager form of government. An utter joke! It also shows (sadly) how ill-informed the "rah rahs" in Brookfield (the ones always clamoring for more money and more government) truly are--that they do not even know what types of government are common for municipalities of various sizes in Connecticut and New England--yet they claim they "know" that we "need" a town manager??!!!!! Is this some sort of weird, surreal joke of some sort?
Ryen November 30, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Why is it that all these educated, (supposedly) intelligent, politically involved, board and commission members and government-connected types cannot even directly and simply answer ONE basic question????? What town in Connecticut (or New England for that matter) that has a population LESS THAN 24,000 people has a Town Manager? Please, get real and get down to earth people.... There is something SERIOUSLY wrong with our formerly great country...something terrible is happening, I believe.... The Presidential election confirms it and this crazy set of Charter Revisions hints at it....
Ryen November 30, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Thank you, Larry. That is very well thought out and well written. Your reasoning is simple, and your facts are sound. I agree. Let's also go back to one "source" of this whole infatuation with a town manager. There are three basic forms of government in Connecticut: selectman-town meeting (which we have); mayor-council; and finally manager-council. I believe it was two towns that came to "present" the wonders of a town manager form of government--one being Windsor. More on that below, in a moment. But, let us consider some rhetorical questions and some straight facts about manager-council types of government (below)....
Ryen November 30, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Apologies...I continue the next comment way down below--after Mr. Friedrich's first comment....
Ryen November 30, 2012 at 01:47 PM
(continued from above) First, there is no town in Connecticut named "Winchester", Jerry. Just an FYI. Maybe you ment Windsor. Back to the Town Manager. Here are FACTS: 1. No town in Connecticut has a Manager-Selectmen form of government to my knowledge. Windsor, Cheshire, Southington, and Plainville have Manager-Council forms of government. If a town manager were brought into our town hall, very quickly the First Selectman would disappear and become simply an ornament--a figurehead. The Manager would quickly have all the power and all the information and would deal with the Selectman himself--the First Selectman would be a "middle man", extraneous, or at best just another selectman. 2. Cheshire and Windsor have TWICE the population of Brookfield. Southington has THREE TIMES the population of Brookfield. Plainville is the ONLY town of Brookfield's size--maybe in the whole world!--that has a town manager form of government. The quantitative and qualititative differences between Windsor/Cheshire/Southington and Brookfield are IMMENSE--like night and day, in fact. Windsor has Bradley Intl. Airport (continued above)
John Hawley November 30, 2012 at 01:50 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_towns_in_Connecticut Took less than 1 minute
Ryen November 30, 2012 at 01:52 PM
(continued from below) Windsor's high school is 50% African American. Windsor grows tobacco. Windsor has businesses that do not compare to Brookfield at all (whew! I moved to Brookfield and environs to get away from places like Windsor.... Did anyone read the NewsTimes, I think, article recently that highlighted the family who re-located from Manhattan to Weston, CT?? People do not want to come to a quaint, lovely small town like Brookfield and then find it taken away from them after they settle here for decades...true??? ;) I have digressed here....point being that Windsor/Cheshire/Southington are NOTHING like Brookfield. Brookfield will NEVER be a "Cheshire" and we should not want to be! Let's be Brookfield! :)
Ryen November 30, 2012 at 01:59 PM
(continued from below) 3. If a manager-council type of government is so great, why have virtually NO towns in Connecticut gone that direction? There are 169 towns in Connecticut--some great towns, right? Why do very few--VERY FEW, I mean less than 5% probably--have a manger-council form of government? Someone claimed that not a single town in Fairfield County has a manager-council form of government. So, why would Brookfield need that? And what is the First Selectman's job when you get a manager? The First Selectman job becomes MEANINGLESS when a town manager steps into the picture. So you are then paying TWO people to do what one person was previously paid to do..... Why?
Ryen November 30, 2012 at 02:07 PM
The rfecent Selectman elections were won by just hundreds of votes--very close. The Presidential elections was razor close--only about a million votes spread over 4 to 6 states won it electorally. One million votes is not alot in a country of almost 500 million. The Brookfield budgets BARELY passed by hundreds of votes recently--very close even when they finally made it. The Charter Revisions--generally--got SLAPPED DOWN ignominously by about 2 to 1 I think?? By THOUSANDS of votes, essentially. Thank the Lord! ;)
Brian November 30, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Not exactly, The CRC was not proposing that Brookfield change from it's Town Meeting structure to a Council-Manager. The proposal was to add a Manager but keep the existing Town Meeting form of government. A couple more clicks and you would have found that this concept is not new (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_meeting) "In 1927 the town of Camden adopted a special charter and became the first Maine town to apply the manager concept to the town meeting-selectmen framework. Under this system, the manager is administrative head of town government, responsible to the select board for the administration of all departments under its control......Today, 135 Maine towns have the town meeting-selectmen-manager system, while 209 use the town meeting-selectman system." In the end I don't think the concept was wrong, but the specific language and some omissions which would have specifically addressed some concerns led some of us to vote No. Of course there are those who also just voted No do to the "fear of bigger government" which would not actually be true if implemented correctly.
Ryen December 10, 2012 at 08:41 AM
Again--for those who "just won;t get it": there are only maybe 6 towns in Connecticut with a town manager form of government. 6 out of 169. That is not even 3%. If you search for towns with populations under 24,000 in New England, you will find even a smaller percent with a so-called town manager. And when you have a town manager, the First Selectman becomes largely a figurehead. One reason the town of Brookfield cannot find a responsible First Selectman is that a cabal of interests wants only their immediate agenda met--more money for education (with no accountability), more government (while others pay the bill), more population to "support" their government and education funds "addiction"--and screw anyone who gets in their way or asks any hard questions or asks: "What about the other 60% to 75% of the townspeople who disagree?" Keep in mind, when 30% to 50% of people turn out to vote--THAT does not necessarily represent how the town feels! I am not making excuses for non-voters--they should vote. But people who swell their heads because they have a cabal of special interests voting and a herd of sheep following them--THAT does not mean most people in Brookfield agree with them....sad but true. ;)
John Hawley December 10, 2012 at 01:45 PM
What is sadder is that when people do not vote, they are actually voting. I never had any sympathy for those who did not vote and then whined and complained. When it is time to vote, get off your butt and go vote...
Steven DeVaux December 10, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Completely disagree. Given a choice of the lesser of two evils one - at least in America - is not forced to choose nor should they be. Now if you were to offer on every ballot line a "None of the above" line, there's an argument to be made that folks should offer up their opinion but nobody is, nor should they be, forced to vote and I don't believe you support that knowing you.
John Hawley December 10, 2012 at 10:36 PM
No one said a thing about "forcing" people to vote..when people do not express a choice, they get what they get with no input and no voice. Elections have consequences and if you don't participate, you live with those consequences. End of discussion.
Steven DeVaux December 11, 2012 at 12:28 AM
That's a copout to the issue. The issue is the offer of no real viable/acceptable choice. Folks stay home when they don't want to show support to any candidate. I agree that folks not voting have to live with the consequences but they knew it was going to be a bad outcome for them no matter what.
John Hawley December 11, 2012 at 03:43 AM
LOL, you of all people should know...there is no copout. The people, in a Town like ours, have every opportunity to get a viable and acceptable candidate through the primary process; through the Town Meeting process; and, by actually working for a candidate...Of course, they don't so special interests win because they depend on voter apathy...by the time the general election runs around, they have abrogated thier choice for the most part to the machines and special interests..give me a break, Steve..you know this as well as I do.....like I said, end of discussion..we pretty much agree


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