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Friday, November 22, 2013

Zappi Named Town Operations Manager

By James Lomuscio

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe has named longtime Westporter Bob Zappi—a business marketing executive and former head of the Republican Town Committee (RTC)— operations manager for the Selectman’s Office.

WestportNow.com Image
Bob Zappi: former GOP head gets town post. Contributed photo

In the new post, Zappi, who was Marpe’s campaign manager, will be the full-time, self-described “go-to person” acting on behalf of the administration, working with department heads and on myriad projects.

“He will be acting on my behalf, doing additional analyses, helping department heads look at their processes, making them more efficient and effective, making sure we are in the right collaborative environment,” Marpe said today.

According to Marpe, the position, which he said has a $125,000 a year salary, is authorized in the Town Charter, and previous administrations had similar posts.  Marpe’s salary is $101,475.

During the 1990s, Pete Wolgast, who preceded Zappi as RTC chair, served under First Selectman Douglas Wood, and William Seiden, a former first selectman, served as operations manager for First Selectman Joe Arcudi. Both were Republicans, as is Marpe, who revived the position after 16 years of Democratic rule.

“Bob will help the department heads implement my plans for Westport that were widely accepted by Westporters earlier this month when I won the first selectman’s office,” Marpe said. “Many of our neighboring towns have similar positions, though with different titles.”

Among the towns cited were New Canaan, Darien and Trumbull, and Marpe said that Zappi’s pay was commensurate.

“And the position is not costing the taxpayers any additional money and will result in savings,” said Marpe.

He noted that the funds would come from reorganizing his office with the recent retirement of Office Manager Pat Scully and trimming hours and costs paid to Town Attorney Ira Bloom. 

“Eventually there will be the need to transfer some money from the department accounts, and for that we will go to the Board of Finance,” Marpe said.

Zappi said today that he was excited about his new role and looked forward to helping Marpe work.

“I’m the go-to guy working with Jim and with department heads to help implement Jim’s vision and agenda for each of them,” said Zappi.

“It won’t be long before we will be going into budget season, and we’re literally having discussions about that now, preplanning before we meet with department heads.”

Marpe also announced that Eileen Francis will be promoted to Office Manager. She has been in the First Selectman’s Office since August training under Pat Scully, who recently retired after almost 32 years of service to Westport.

Marpe also said he plans to hire an administrative assistant described as “a professional with social media experience.”

“This person will be involved with implementing Town Hall meetings on the Web and other social media vehicles that promote discussion and exchange of ideas,” he said,

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Posted 11/22/13 at 07:04 PM



Comments

Comment Policy

Can you spell “patronage”?  Though I have left town recently I still try to keep up with developments, and reading this was just staggering.  I immediately wondered about the following:

1 – if Helen Garten had been elected and the first thing she did was hire Jim Ezzes ( the head of the DTC) at a salary of $125k to a job that did not exist last week how much howling would there be from the other side?

2 – If Mr. Marpe did not feel he could run the Town without help, might it not have been a good idea to mention it during the campaign?

3 -  Did Mr. Marpe run this by the other town bodies before doing this? Or was it a done deal before he even got elected? See # 1 & 2

4 – Like virtually all Town job openings was this posted publicly to try to get the best, most experienced person for the job to the benefit of the Town? How much experience does Mr. Zappi have in running a municipal government?  I’m guessing none.

5 - Mr. Marpe made a big deal about not taking a raise if he were elected selectman ( a mistake for other reasons ).  But the Town is now paying someone else to do half the selectman’s job at a salary greater than the Selectman’s.  Essentially doubling the cost of the position.

6 – To say the position will not cost the taxpayers money is absolutely bizarre.  The taxpayers of Westport are now footing the bill for $125k for a position that has not existed for the last 16 years. I wonder if there were any discussions with Town employees, department heads or other elected officials, past and present to see if there was a real need for this.

I could go into more specifics but there are space limitations.

My last thought on this for now is a line from a Mel Brooks movie -
“It’s good to be the King”. I just don’t think that the people of Westport realized they were electing one.

PS – announce it on Friday afternoon so hopefully no one sees it. Such a classic

Hadley Rose
Simsbury CT

I

Posted by Hadley C Rose on November 23, 2013 at 04:30 AM | #
 

Hadley~
This has happened before. Back in the 90’s Joe Arcudi hired Bill Seiden, a previous First Selectman, to a vacuous position that was called, I think, Director of Planning. But the job wasn’t at
125K.

Posted by Wally Meyer on November 23, 2013 at 03:57 PM | #
 

Wally,

I know it happened before but there seemed to be no need for it for the past 16 years.

I wonder what the reaction would have been, if during the LWV debates, Jim Marpe had mentioned that this was going to be the first thing he did after he was inaugurated.

I can see it now:
Can you imagine if at the LWV debate Jim had said:

“well the first thing I am going to to when I am inaugurated is to hire the RTC chair for $125,000 to do part of the work my predecessors have done in the past 16 years by themselves”

It’s curious that he never mentioned such a major step during the campaign.  I guess he and Bob Zappi didn’t think it was such a great idea to let the voters know about this.

I am sure this was not a recent epiphany but was well thought out by Marpe and Zappi.

Having been in town government for ten years, and having seen Jim’s work on the BoE, I used to have a fair amount of respect for him.  I used to look at him, unlike Zappi,  as a relatively non-partisan guy.  I have lost a tremendous amount of that respect now.

Hadley Rose

Posted by Hadley C Rose on November 23, 2013 at 04:16 PM | #
 

Marpe’s first move as an elected official is a disgrace.
Pure patronage. If he needed another person to do his job why didn’t he tell the voters that before the election?
Marpe has lost my confidence and my vote if he dares to run again

Posted by James M. Graves on November 23, 2013 at 07:06 PM | #
 

Before we rush to judgement we have to acknowledge that we elected Jim to be our leader.  If he believes having an operations manager will help him drive efficiency thru the Westport town organization than we need to let him do just that.  Results will tell Westport residents whether this was a good decision or not.  If Jim decides to run for another 4 years we will all base our vote on his results.

What is a very good indication of his leadership is how quickly he has cut $100K from our legal bills.  Only a few days into his role he found the overspend for Ira Bloom and his team.  Just imagine how much he might get accomplished in the next 4 years—let alone the next 4 weeks.  I guess Joseloff had little control and Jim quickly saw the opportunity. 

Most leaders have help to drive change thru an organization.  They bring in people they can trust to help implement their strategy.  If Jim feels Bob can be the guy, we need to support that decision.  No matter what anyone says, Jim is the hiring manager and he chose Bob.

For anyone that has tried to deal with Town Hall you know it is dysfunctional.  Jim has committed to be a leader and drive change that we should all benefit from (less Hadley who now lives somewhere else). 

Right now this move is expense neutral.  If Jim believes he can drive more efficiency, more productivity and increase town services at the same time, we deserves that opportunity.

Posted by Bart Shuldman on November 23, 2013 at 10:26 PM | #
 

Mr Shuldman,

If you understood how the Town budget works you would realize the there has been no net savings of 100k. It has merely been proposed to shift it from one line item to another.

The monies allocated to legal costs include monies for contingencies in potential law suits. (think all the money expended for the various suits related to the Y ).  If those suits , and expenses, do no materialize, at the end of the fiscal year it goes back to the Town or gets rolled into the next budget, I don’t recall exactly which. It is like the contingency money built into construction projects,  there, but if not used it is not spent.  So there is not any net savings, it is only spun that way, to try to justify the new position.

As far as Town hall being dysfunctional,  in my ten years dealing with them I did not find that to be true. Of course there were times I did not agree with everything that went on there, but dysfunctional, no.. However, having observed your comments and actions over the past 3 or 4 years, I am not at all surprised that you found it to be that way. It is very much in the eye of the beholder.

You say that Jim chose Bob, that is true and if he wants to fill that position it is his right. Even though ti was not needed for the past 16 years.The bigger question and concern is, was anyone else interviewed or considered?  That is an important question now and for all hires in the future.

Finally the fact that I have moved is not at all germane to this conversation. The fact that I still am concerned about what I going on in the Town that I lived in for 20 years and have a decent perspective on how it is supposed to function is.

I doubt I’ll have anything new to add to this thread in the future. I wish you all good luck

Posted by Hadley C Rose on November 23, 2013 at 11:26 PM | #
 

Mr. Rose,

I appreciate your comments but do find it troubling you have decided to be so vocal given you moved away from Westport.  If Jim Marpe is successful with his approach it neither helps to hurts you.  But you seem to take a very negative approach to Jim’s strategy to improve Westport.

Saying someone should not fill a post after 16 years of vacancy is non sensical.  If our new leader believes this will help manage our town, be more efficient, productive while providing better services, then why not?  This arguments just does not hold.  Lets reverse the argument, we have been paying a pension for 16 years, should we not stop it?

Change is clearly needed in Westport.  We have pension issues, OPEB issues, lots of debt and what most would say needed improvements in services.  New ideas should always be welcomed.  Every organization can do better.

Just the other day the town turned over the maintenance of Longshore to a professional firm to improve our golf course.  This was a great change that we, who live in Westport, will benefit from.  How can you say this town does not need change (which is exactly what you are saying).

There is no doubt I have been vocal in Westport.  After watching the debacle with OPEB, as an example (I could easily give you more), watched as taxes just continue to rise driving some of our senior citizens to leave, you are darn right I decided to voice my opinion.  And thankfully it just might have helped.

Posted by Bart Shuldman on November 24, 2013 at 12:43 AM | #
 

I’m appalled at this hire by Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner.  After a campaign touting their combined 60 years of management experience, in their first days in office, they hire a political crony for an obvious patronage job.  Why didn’t they mention they would be too busy or not have the right qualifications to do the job themselves?  Why did they not discuss in the campaign that Westport needed a “town manager” position, after surviving quite well for 16 years without one.  If this position is truly necessary, why is it going to the former chairman of the Republican party, rather than conducting a search for the best qualified person that we could attract? 

The contrast with the prior 16 years under Democratic Selectmen, and with Helen Garten and Melissa Kane able and willing to continue that tradition, should be noted.  It’s head-spinning to see how fast a new Republican administration goes back to their bad government habits of misdirection, patronage and cronyism.  It bears watching what other back-room deals they’ve cooked up.

Posted by Joseph Scordato on November 24, 2013 at 05:03 AM | #
 

Mr Rose
  thank you for all your years of public service in Westport.

  Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner also are dedicated public
servants and have the best interests of Westport at heart. Please give them a chance and let them pursue
an agenda to provide great services for all our citizens in a fiscally fair and prudent manner.

As John Lennon once said “Give peace a chance”!

Give Jim and Avi a chance !

Rob Adler

Posted by Rob Adler on November 24, 2013 at 02:13 PM | #
 

Mr. Adler,
It’s fine to give peace a chance, but chances are that heavy handed patronage decisions to gift Robert Zappi does not appear to be for the best interests of Westport. It would appear to be what is is:  a payoff.

This is not exercising “a fiscally fair and prudent manner” if I may quote you.

Posted by carolanne curry on November 24, 2013 at 05:29 PM | #
 

It was pretty clear that the town operations managers of the past covered for various inadequacies of the politicians who held the office of first selectman. I, personally, was taken aback by this announcement and hope NOT to be similarly blindsided by future developments.

Posted by werner liepolt on November 25, 2013 at 01:59 AM | #
 

I am posting here the contents of an email letter which I sent to Jim Marpe on November 23. It had the subject line “Zapping Westport”.

Dear Jim,

Wow, unbelievable. That sort of sums up what is probably your first official act as First Selectman.

Let me just quickly outline my objections:

1. It sounds to me as though you are outsourcing your job - the one you ,and no one else, were elected to do.

2. This position is authorized in the town charter—if you want to be technical, yes (athough I have not read it) ; but this is a position not filled for 20 years in Westport, and, therefore an expense no one planned for.  And what do other towns have to do with this except as a rationalization?

3. It will not cost taxpayers anything additional???  Yet, just a few sentences later in this announcement, despite saying that the retirement of Pat Scully as office manager creates the opportunity for a reorganization and way to save money, you state that the position of office manager will, indeed, be filled,  AND that you intend to hire an administrative assistant. You have just created two new paid positions.

4. Bob Zappi is unelected.

5. It is obvious that you decided to do this long before you were elected and you never discussed this during the campaign - if you think it is such a good idea, why did you not tell people about this flash of inspiration when you were campaigning? This does not pass the sniff test.

6. Back to the costs: you plan to “trim the hours and costs”  of our town attorney to pay for this. Another item you never talked about during the campaign - one can only assume that you think our town attorney is overpaid and that we do not need his services to the degree we (the Town) are enjoying them.  That is an important topic and should have been discussed while you were campaigning.  Not to mention that you admit you will need to go to the Board of Finance (now conveniently with a Republican majority) to ask for more money to pay for this appointment by “transferring money from department accounts” or, in plain English to cut other departments to pay for this new position.

7. We are a town, not a business that can pad its hierarchy under the rubric of public relations and then charge its customers for the expense. The taxpayers, the citizens of Westport will suffer.

8. I am so disappointed in you. When you announced that you would run, I was relieved that each party would be running a candidate who was qualified and would not be an embarrassment to our town; this also meant to me that no matter who won, Westport would be okay.  I no longer feel that way. In your first act, you have set a very bad precedent and damaged your credibility with me.

Posted by Luisa Francoeur on November 25, 2013 at 06:59 PM | #
 

That certainly is an interesting start for the new administration. I’ve certainly one eyebrow now raised.

Posted by Kevin Green on November 26, 2013 at 02:03 AM | #
 

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