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Why Does Vernon Need So Many Administrators?

Efficiently-run towns, some larger than Vernon, have three people in the top administrative offices. Vernon has six. The additional cost is approximately a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

Efficient towns, some larger than Vernon, have three administrators, a mayor or town manager, an administrative assistant and an executive assistant.

Compared to an efficient town, Vernon has twice as many administrators: a mayor, a town administrator, an assistant town administrator, an executive assistant and two administrative assistants.  As fringe benefits (health insurance, pensions, etc.) are over 40 percent of wages, the actual cost of these additional administrators is roughly a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

Having studied all of the nearby towns, I can say that Vernon has more administrators than any of them. Despite this, almost no one wants to cut Vernon’s administrative overhead.  I was the sole Council member to vote against filling the assistant town administrator’s position at the last Council meeting. Surprisingly, Mayor Apel ruled that speaking against filling the position was “out of order”.

I believe in government services, provided efficiently. Spending unnecessarily on administrators, while simultaneously eliminating recycling pick-ups after holidays, is moving in the wrong direction.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michael February 13, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Michael- You tend to focus on the negatives, is there anything about Vernon, the Mayor or the town council you like ????
Bert February 13, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Could it be that the mayor ruled against your attempt to speak against the "position" because the question was not whether you thought that the "position" was needed or not. The question at hand was "do you vote for the proposed 'candidate' for the position or do you not." If you think that there are too many administrative positions in the staff structure, which there may or may not be, then you should propose that the council review the present staffing structure and discuss it as a group. A discussion of the need to replace the vacancy in this position should have taken place before the position was posted and candidates were interviewed. Your timing was a little bit off for this one but you still have time to initiate such a discussion for the future.
Ronald Burke February 13, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Bert Your comment makes sense and addresses the question posed by the councilman. Michael; Your comment does nothing to answer a legitimate concern.
Michael February 13, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Ron, My point is the same as yours, Michael needs to take the appropriate steps to try and fix what he thinks is wrong with the system. This town does not need an arm chair quarterback. I learned a long time ago, either you are part of the problem or part of the solution, but complaining about it does absoluelty nothing.
Ronald Burke February 13, 2012 at 10:34 PM
I do not see anything in your original comment that relates to mine. Your original blog is nothing but accusatory
Bill Dauphin February 13, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Bert: I may be mistaken, but I think this vote was the first opportunity the Council had to speak on the question at all: Since the vacancy was in an existing position, I'm guessing the administration didn't need the Council's consent to post it, nor to interview for it. In any case, "I don't think we should fill this position at all" strikes me as a perfectly plausible reason for voting against the candidate, and thus I think it should've been allowable in debate. Just because a position exists does not mean it necessarily *must* (or *should*) be filled: My understanding is that this position has frequently been left unfilled in the past.
Bill Dauphin February 13, 2012 at 11:14 PM
I'm puzzled as to why you thought suggesting ways the town might save taxpayers' money and operate more efficiently constituted "focus[ing] on the negative," and I'm *really* puzzled as to what you think "appropriate steps" would be for a Council member to take, if not voting his conscience on matters brought before the Council, and attempting to persuade others to vote his way during the debate on motions/ What, precisely, is it that you think the Town Council is supposed to do, other than debate, and then vote on, the things it has authority over?
Rocky February 13, 2012 at 11:32 PM
@ Mike Winkler. I interpret your comments as possibly suggesting that the administration could have some less than top notch people in it. Am I correct with the viewpoint, you are advancing the idea that if a more competent administration was present, fewer people would be needed?
Michael February 13, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Bill- I agree Michael should be doing at the council meeting, but to post it here does what? Ron- My first post was in response to Michael Winkler's past track record about complaining about things. I have never seen positive constructive solutions to a problem. If something goes against his thought process, you see a note here. I want my town council to work together to get the job done
Bill Dauphin February 13, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Mike can speak for himself, of course, but I don't see why you're interpreting his blog post that way: He said we have *too many* administrators; he didn't say anything about their performance. I don't read him as saying "if a more competent administration was present, fewer people would be needed"; I read him as saying fewer people *are* needed... full stop. If he thought the existing administrators were incompetent and needed extra help, presumably he would've voted *for* the Assistant Town Administrator!
Bill Dauphin February 13, 2012 at 11:47 PM
Posting here about what goes on in Council gets the news -- and the member's perspective -- out to people who can't (or don't) make it to meetings, and gives members a chance to explain why they voted the way they did. Personally, I wish more members did this... even including the ones I disagree with. Transparency in government is never a bad thing (IMHO). BTW, how is suggesting that we streamline the town's administrative structure *not* a "positive constructive solution"? We're always being told what the town *can't afford*; suggesting ways to attack that problem without cutting services or undercutting *existing* town employees strikes me as pretty darn positive.
Bert February 14, 2012 at 01:37 AM
My point was: If the councilmember thinks that there needs to be a change in staffing, he should ask that an agenda item be placed to look into present staffing. Or he should ask for a report from the Administration as to the duties of each staffer. If enough members have the same concern, they should put together a committee of the council to look into it and bring their findings to the entire council for consideration. By sharing his concerns and voting "no", Mr. Winkler accomplished nothing. Something like this should be studied before making any decision is made. It should be looked into BEFORE budget deliberations so that all members of the council will have firm facts before making any decisions and not be blind sided by one councilperson's opinion. Do any of the councilmembers have a firm idea as to what staff does each day and what the appropriate level of staffing needs to be to accomplish the tasks necessary? I don't think that they do but if they question it, they should look into it "together", as a group. This is a mostly new council and they might be more receptive to working together than playing the "Lone Ranger."
Bill Dauphin February 14, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Bert: I have some knowledge of how Mike pursues his duties as a member of the Council, and I think he does as much of the sort of proactive work as anyone could reasonably expect from a volunteer legislator[1], and (AFAIK) as much as, or more than, any other member of the Council. In this case, the position existed, and the administration didn't need the Council's permission to post it, interview candidates, and present a selected candidate to the Council. *Eliminating* the position would've had to happen during the prior budget cycle (i.e., under the old Council and Administration), which, you may recall, the minority was pretty comprehensively shut out of. Once the proposed candidate came before the Council, I can't see anything wrong with Mike voting not to fill the position... nor with explaining his vote here. You seem to think that once something comes before the Council for debate, everyone should just be quiet and toe the line... but there's a reason it's called *debate*. As a citizen, I *want* to hear the arguments on both sides, and I want my representatives to vote for what they think is right. Don't you? [1] As an aside, if you really want Town Council members to carry out investigations, do fact-finding, and hold hearings the way Congress or the General Assembly does, you should be prepared to pay them... and give them staff. No? Didn't think so....
Brian Motola February 15, 2012 at 01:15 AM
I find this subject very interesting. Council Member Winkler brought this exact subject up when the Ad-Hoc sub committee of the Town Council met on the subject of Mayoral pay. As I said then, we have to be careful making a comparison of the strict numbers from town to town. Our Assistant Town Administrator performs functions concerning Pensions, Union Contracts and Personnel (Human Resources). I don't think another town's First Selectman or Town Manager performs his/her normal functions and all the above mentioned functions themselves.. A fair analysis of every positions functions would have to be created and then matched to the other towns to see the true staffing comparisons. Then you will have to adjust for not town population size, but town staff size. Just because Manchester is approximately 1.66 times the size of Vernon does not mean it has 1.66 employees for each Vernon Employee. Their police department is twice the size of ours, as an example. Also, at least one of our administration staffers are re-assigned on a temporary basis to other departments in town during employee shortages. This takes the place of hiring a temp and keeps the knowledge in house, reducing training time and making that employee more valuable. Its not as easy as comparing numbers of administrative staff to numbers of administrative staff. Just my thoughts on a subject that is not as simple to analyze as first presented.
Bert February 15, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Bill: You don't wish to put any words in Lance Chernack's mouth but you have no problem putting them in mine. I simply said that the motion was to appoint or not appoint the candidate being presented, not whether the "position" was necesssary or not. I do not suggest that when something comes before the council that everyone "should be quiet and toe the line". I suggested that Robert's Rules of order be enforced and that speakers stick to the motion at hand and not editorialize on other topics. Council meetings are not free-for-alls that members can use to share their opinions on anything that happens to come to mind. The Council has the power to carry out investigations if they so chose and they have access to support services from the administration. That the minority was "shut out" of the last budget process is certainly your own biased opinion. The rules of procedure are voted on at the first budget meeting. If some were absent or forgot what was agreed to, they should pay closer attention.
Bill Dauphin February 15, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Bert: >>I do not suggest that when something comes before the council that everyone "should be quiet and toe the line".<< I didn't say you *said* that; I said you "seem to think" it. IOW, it's what I infer from what you did say. As I understand it, the question before the Council was whether or not this candidate should be hired. Mike's answer was "no." Articulating his *reason* for voting no -- in this case, that he didn't think *anyone* should be hired -- is not "editorializ[ing] on other topics; it's speaking *directly* to the motion at hand. I'm no expert on Robert's Rules, but that strikes me as perfectly legitimate debate, on its face. You had previously said, "By sharing his concerns and voting 'no', Mr. Winkler accomplished nothing. Something like this should be studied before making any decision is made. It should be looked into BEFORE...," which made it sound as if you thought raising any objection once the matter was already before the Council was *too late*. If that's not what you meant, by all means, enlighten us... but if it *is* what you meant, I disagree. While it's useful to gather ideas beforehand, the *most appropriate* time to discuss these matters is in open session, in full view of anyone who chooses to watch and listen. That's what transparent government is all about.
Bert February 15, 2012 at 02:53 PM
He was not just "raising an objection". He was asking for a change in the organizational chart and that takes time and deliberations. That was not what he was being asked to vote on. Actually he did accomplish something. He took the opportunity to take a swipe at the mayor and get our attention.
Danno February 22, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Speaking of Town of Vernon positions. Why doesn't the town have a FULL time Zoning Enforcement officer? We now have an Assistant Administrator but no full time zoning enforcement?? It seems to me that we are letting businesses break the Zoning Regulations far too often. Many businesses in town are not presentable these days and no one is doing anything about it. If businesses were on track with the Zoning Regs. I believe that the businesses would be more attractive to potential buyers. Above all, I think that the town would have been just fine without an additional administrator.

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