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."