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Finance Board Hikes Salary $35K for 1st Selectman

The Board of Finance has raised the salary of the first selectman from $80,000 to $115,000, to take effect just after the November election; the idea was discussed in the past two meetings but did not appear on any posted agenda; the vote was Tuesday.

Update 4:56 p.m., Thursday:

When the Board of Finance voted 4-2 on Tuesday to raise the first selectman's salary starting with the next term, board members Martha Banks and Lorene Bora voted against.

"The argument was that area salaries of first selectmen were higher than ours," Banks said. While that's true, she said, "some selectmen in other towns don't have the support of a town administrator the way Darien does. It was for that reason that I couldn't support an increase to $115,000. [...] It's a pretty substantial increase."

Banks said the Town Charter appears to allow the Representative Town Meeting to cut the salary when the town budget comes up for a vote later this Spring. In Chapter 11, Section 39(d) ("at least in the edition I have," she said), the Charter states that the Representative Town Meeting, in approving the town side of the budget, "may decrease the appropriations or any item thereof."

Banks said she wasn't recommending that the RTM do that.

The agenda is written to allow the Board of Finance to take up any budget matter, Banks said, so "we're able to take up areas that aren't specifically noted in the agenda." Banks said she had no problem with the fact that the salary matter was not mentioned.

[5:05 p.m.: Banks said her initial citation of the Town Charter was incorrect. It has been changed in this version of the article.]

Update 3:29 p.m.:

Darien TV79, the government-access cable channel on Cablevision, aired Tuesday's Board of Finance meeting live and is broadcasting the videotape at 5:03 and 10:37 a.m. and p.m. for the next week, according to Jim Cameron of TV79.

The March 19 Board of Finance meeting can be viewed online here, Cameron wrote in an email.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE, 3:01 p.m.:

Acting without public notice, the Board of Finance on Tuesday raised the salary of the first selectman by 43 percent, to take effect after November's election.

The current salary is $80,000. The new salary would be $115,000, according to Board of Finance Chair Liz Mao. She said the vote Tuesday was 4-2 to raise the salary.

Mao said the salary Darien pays its first selectmen has been inadequate for years and compares poorly with what other towns pay. New Canaan, for example, pays its first selectman $125,000. Wilton, Greenwich and Fairfield each pay their first selectmen between $120,000 and $130,000 (see the document attached to this story in various formats for more comparison information).

The Board of Finance is the sole authority for setting the first selectman's salary, although the Representative Town Meeting can cut various areas of the budget, including the First Selectman's Office, Mao said.

Discussion of the raise reflected some "concern because it was a very significant increase from what the existing level of compensation is," Mao said.

Hidden in Town Hall: No specific notice to the public

Although it came up for a vote at Tuesday's meeting, the issue of the first selectman's salary was not on the Board of Finance agenda, as pubished on the town website. The matter had also been discussed at the board's previous meeting, and was also not specifically on the agenda, Mao said.

Mao said both agendas did mention that the town budget for the upcoming 2013-2014 fiscal year was up for discussion (both agendas are attached to this article under "Photos").

"The meeting before [March 19], when we raised it [for discusson], we said we were going to do more [research] work," Mao said. "It's on the agenda because we were discussion budget items, and that includes salary and pensions and everything.

"It shouldn't be on the agenda as a separate item," Mao continued. Asked why, she replied, "Because it's part of the overall budget."

The agenda for each meeting notes the budgets for various other areas of town government would be up for discussion, but those same parts of the agenda only indicate discussion would take place, not votes.

No news reporters were in the room when the board met on Tuesday, Mao said. Darien Patch's editor was covering the Board of Education meeting, which took place at the same time.

The meeting was scheduled to be broadcast live by Darien TV79.

Mao's reasons for supporting the raise

Mao said the Darien first selectman's salary has been very low for some time.

"To put this inperspective, in 2003, when Bob Harrell was first selectman, his compensation was $85,000," she said. At that time the town had a salary scale for first selectmen, with step increases in wages related to the number of terms of office the first selectman held. The Board of Finance rejected that plan in favor of a straight salary, Mao said.

Just before First Selectwoman Evonne Klien took office, the office's wages were decreased to a starting salary of $75,000, Mao said.

"They basically lowered it," she said of the Board of Finance at that time. Mao said she was told that Finance Board members at the time had wanted to keep the salary low enough that the office wouldn't attract candidates who would rely on the salary.

"I don't even think [former First Selectman] David Campbell even took his salary," Mao continued, and she said that was one reason why the matter of the salary wasn't examined until recently.

"We want to attract good people running for this office, and the person who takes it on takes a real executive role," Mao said. "As an executive, it should be paid appropriately, particularly when it's so far below what almost every town is paying. [...] It's just good, standard practice to pay what a position is worth."

Mao said she recognized that the salary could be controversial: "I'm willing to take the heat for it because I think it's terrible not to pay people for what they do. This is not personal. For me, this is about treating people fairly.

"I thought it was wrong when they lowered the salary before Evonne Klein took office," Mao continued. "Finally, I'm in the position where I can raise it and fix the problem."

Augie March 28, 2013 at 08:58 PM
The candidates know the salary when they run for office...Mao's explanation doesn't make sense...more liberal spending to solve everything, even when its not a problem.
Dave March 28, 2013 at 11:24 PM
We have had plenty of good people run for this position with the salary as is. Why not increase it over time at more reasonable increments? Quite a jump if you ask me!
Joe Pankowski March 29, 2013 at 11:01 AM
Kudos to Liz Mao and the Board of Finance for taking this step. The First Selectman's job is not just the day-to-day managing of our town, working with boards, following up on issues, etc. For, when there's trouble like we saw with Sandy, the job morphs into a 24/7 marathon. The sum of $115,000 is certainly an appropriate annual salary for all that we ask a First Selectman to do.
not2bdenied March 29, 2013 at 05:37 PM
I find this raise incredibly offensive in light of our tight budget situation. How many books or computers could this money have gone to in our school system ? One would hope since this is a full time salary, a full time job, that we get a full time employee, one who shows up for work m-f at town hall and gives us at least 40 hrs/week of their time. It would be nice if that were a requirement of the job.
Joe Pankowski March 29, 2013 at 06:10 PM
@ not2bdenied: please see a link below to the Town of Darien's proposed budget, with expenditures of $42,660,669. A long-overdue $35,000 raise for our First Selectman is not only warranted due to the work we require of the person holding that office, but a small drop in the bucket when it comes to our budget. http://www.darienct.gov/filestorage/104/114/179/161/General_Fund.pdf
Schuyler Colfax March 29, 2013 at 08:20 PM
Good reporting David. Clearly this was a mistake on the part of BoF and Jayme should decline the raise until after a full discussion can be held. Maybe the discussion agenda can be posted on the town website first.
pam h March 29, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Regardless of what some may consider the position to be worth, 80K was the salary. It is totally inappropriate to give anyone a nearly 50% raise!
Silly March 29, 2013 at 10:19 PM
By your silly logic, my taxes of $30,000 a year are an even smaller drop in the bucket so would you be willing to allow me not to pay it?
Silly March 29, 2013 at 10:26 PM
I've never seen such a thing. It wasn't on the agenda and it is a whopping large increase. Isn't this exactly what we fear about small town government? What I have seen in the last week: 1) A huge raise handed out that wasn't on the agenda. 2) A school district accused of not obeying the law. 3) Priority on distribution of meeting documents being given to a select few. 4) Town Hall "unable" to distribute documents electronically, so more people would have access. I think this town is going very much the wrong way.
Chris Noe March 30, 2013 at 11:54 AM
My next campaign for 1st Selectman includes doing the job for 1 dollar a year.
Joe Pankowski March 30, 2013 at 12:50 PM
@ Silly: unfortunately, it is your logic that is flawed. If you are paying $30,000 a year in taxes, your contribution represents just .0007032 of the town's budget of $42,660,669. Thus, a raise of $35,000 to adequately pay the First Selectman means that your share of the increased salary is $24.61. You may not wish to pay an extra $24.61 per year for a First Selectman who is on-call 24/7 and, at least once a year, has to work around the clock to deal with a blizzard, a hurricane, etc. I think this "drop in the bucket" for each taxpayer is more than worth it.
Darien Taxpayer April 04, 2013 at 07:09 PM
This is just so WRONG on so many levels. Liz Mao should know better but maybe her friendship with Jayme Stevenson has badly clouded her judgment. They claim that the salary should be raised because other towns are higher. So WHAT if our First Selectman salary is lower? Candidates know what it pays when they run. Are we having trouble attracting good candidates for the honor of running the town? No. In fact, I would argue that keeping the salary low will attract candidates who want to really serve the town, not just for the money. Then, there is the whole "under the radar" smell of this. To hide such a high profile item on the agenda and claim that it's just part of the overall budget is disingenuous. What a crock! A 43% increase? That's simply outrageous and a slap in the face to the taxpayer. Jayme Stevenson should reject this raise and the BOF needs to have a public meeting so people can weigh in. If the RTM can reduce it, they should. I am amazed at the sneakiness of Liz Mao, but her friendship with Jayme Stevenson should be set aside.
Darien Voter April 04, 2013 at 08:23 PM
Taxpayer, for the record, the raise goes in effect for the first selectman that is elected in November, so it could very well benefit someone other than our current first selectman. Also, it passed on a bipartisan 4-2 vote, with even the dissenters also calling for a stepped raise.

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