Comments by First Selectman Rudy Marconi functioned as a tie-breaking vote against giving Ridgefield’s first selectman — Marconi — a $10,000 raise.
Although Marconi left the room more than once so the discussions could go on without him, his colleagues kept returning to the issue — one of the few budget adjustments that the Board of Selectmen could not find a consensus on during three evenings of budget discussions Monday through Wednesday, March 4, 5 and 6.
“I’m very uncomfortable with this,” Marconi said after his colleagues went back to the issue once again while wrapping up their budget work near the end of Wednesday’s meeting. “...Take it out, and we move forward.”
The raise had been proposed by Selectman Steve Zemo, and would have increased the first selectman’s salary from $147,313 to $157,313 — assuming roughly $12,000 in “longevity” payments the board had added three years ago are included as part of the salary.
Marconi had cut short a similar discussion Tuesday night, when the board had returned to the discussion as a “procedural issue” with him in the room.
“I’d just say take it out, so we can go forward,” Marconi said. “I don’t want to go forward with something like this without a unanimous consensus.”
It was clear pretty early on that the board — with Marconi recused and not voting — was tied two-to-two on the issue. Zemo and fellow Democrat Barbara Manners favored of the raise, and the board’s two Republicans, Bob Hebert and Maureen Kozlark, opposed the pay hike.
Each night in the final week of the selectmen’s budget work there was considerable discussion the about the raise proposal — just a $10,000 item in a $148 million town and school budget, but a raise for the first selectman in a year when most town departments were being held “flat” and the selectmen’s $38 million town departments budget, excluding the schools, was being held to a zero increase.
(The school board is seeking a $98.4-million budget that represents a 3.6% increase, although the selectmen’s “non-binding recommendation” was for a $460,000 cut. All the budget proposal move now to the Board of Finance, which will make its adjustments and pass a final recommended budget along to voters at the May budget referendum.)
Selectman Bob Hebert did research showing Ridgefield’s first selectman salary of $147,313 exceeding the salaries in a group of 16 towns that ranged from New Canaan, the next highest at $146,872, down to West Hartford at $63,133.
Nearby towns in the group, and the salaries they pay, included: Wilton, at $136,108; Greenwich, $134,000; Fairfield, $131,000; Darien, $130,000; Trumbull, $127,000; Danbury, $106,875; Newtown, $106,547; Westport, $101,475.
Hebert said the median salary in the group is $115,500 and the average $118,160.
A second group he’d researched went from Hartford and Norwalk, at $147,000 to Easton at $63,359, with a median of $100,500 and an average of $107,589.
“He is the highest paid first selectman in this study group, which is probably 30 towns,” Hebert said of Marconi.
Hebert also made a point that his position on the salary wasn’t meant at reflection on the quality fo Marconi’s job performance.
“He works hard. He does a good job — not taking any of that away,” Hebert said.
How much staff?
Zemo said the top elected officials salary had to be viewed in the context of other staff helping them. They all had an administrative assistant — what used to be called a secretary — but many others had further assistance, he said.
Zemo made two comparisons, based on some research of his own. New Canaan had a first selectman making $147,000 but also a “chief appointed official” making $148,306, for a total cost of $295,305.
And Wilton’s first selectman, with a $136,108 salary, gets help from a part-time community affairs coordinator making $42,326, for a salary cost of $178,434 — in addition to the administrative assistant position found in all first selectmen’s offices.
“Wilton has an assistant, like Rudy has, but also a community affairs coordinator,” Zemo said. “...Wilton is $136,000 plus $42,000 because she has another assistant Rudy doesn’t have...
“You need to look at, do you have a support staff or do you do it all?” he said.
“He’s doing two jobs,” Zemo said of Marconi.
Zemo also compared Marconi’s salary to some other Ridgefield officials.
“We hired a chief of police — $146,500. The superintendent — $200,000-some-odd,” Zemo said. (The superintendent’s salary is over $233,000).
Other selectmen weighed in, as well.
Kozlark noted that the superintendent of schools usually has a doctorate, and a police chief goes through the state police academy and has a variety of other specific training.
“Town managers get more than this,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners. “I feel like he’s under-compensated.”
The first selectman manages a $38-million budget, but also goes to ribbon cuttings and talks to scout troops.
“You can make the job more, or less,” Manners said. “We’ve seen first selectmen who made it less.”
“No one is challenging his work ethic, or that we feel he does a great job,” said Kozlark.
Manners recalled back to when she’d been the Democratic candidate opposing former First Selectwoman Sue Manning.
“This job, I ran for it all those years ago,” she said, “and I lost, thank God.”
There was also a procedural aspect to the discussion.
Selectwoman Kozlark brought the matter up Tuesday, March 5, as a procedural question. The cost of the raise had been included in the working budget document, prepared and updated after each session by Controller Kevin Redmond. So, for there not to be a raise, Kozlark said, someone would have to make a motion that it be taken out. If she made such a motion, and the two-to-two everyone could see coming ensued, the motion would fail on a tie vote, under Robert’s Rules of Order.
Would that mean the raise was approved?
“We’d have to make a motion to take it out,” Kozlark said.
“If I made the motion, and it’s two to two, it fails. It’s been baked in ... It’s two-two. There’s no vote. What do we do with it?”
It was then that Marconi said that the raise should come out of the budget, lacking a unanimous consensus among his colleagues.
“There’s nothing personal about this,” Marconi added.
That the discussion should not be regarded as personal was a point that seemed to be agreed upon by both sides of the debate.
“Rudy does a terrific job,” Hebert said during Wednesday’s discussion. “He serves the town well.”