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Role of New Canaan Treasurer Dominates Debate

The candidates' views on the duties and obligations of the treasurer, and the Lakeview Bridge arbitration award, were central to Monday evening's debate at Town Hall.

The program for the held Monday evening at , began with a , the only contested town-wide race. 

Moderator, Susan LaPerla, from , co-sponsors of the evening asked the first question: "There hasn't been a lot of focus on the role of town treasurer until recent events brought attention to the office. What's your understanding of the role of treasurer?"

Hersam: "No, there has not been a focus on the role of town treasurer for many years," he said. "As described through the Town Charter and the listings by the Council as to the duties they are very limited ... it just says there shall be a treasurer," he said.

In his answer, Hersam also said that the current discussion of the role of the treasurer arose as a result of the . In the limited time each candidate was allotted he said, "That check that was drawn was necessary."

Corbet: While praising Hersam's service to New Canaan, not just as treasurer, but also his active role in the life of the town, Corbet said she sees the duties of the treasurer differently. It's an active role," she said, "the treasurer has the responsibility to be a second set of eyes, working closely yet independently with the CFO, and overseeing, making sure that those checks are appropriately authorized."

Corbet said that the town website cites that the town treasurer position is mandated by the state. The treasurer, "is the ex-officio of the pension fund and has the responsibility for overseeing cash management accounts of anywhere from $30 to $70 million on any given day," she said.

They were next asked to state their qualifications for the office:

Corbet: Detailing, "over 25, nearly 30 years, of experience in investment, finance, technology and governance," in the private and non-profit sector, she said nonetheless that, "her proudest time is the time I've spent serving New Canaan." 

Hersam: "Those qualifications are quite astounding," he said, "I can't hold a candle to that."

"I've been in New Canaan quite a while and learned something about people," he said. "I've learned that when you see talent, you let talent do the job without interfering. I'm referring to Gary Conrad and his staff. I'm not about to change the way this town is being run."

Roy Abramovitz, asked a question from the audience, which again went to the issue of the Lakeview Avenue Bridge Arbitration. He asked the candidates if they thought this issue suggested that the Board of Finance should be an elected body, rather than appointed as it is now.

Hersam: Calling it a constructive idea, he said it would require a charter revision and declined to express his views on any charter revisions. He said, "I have some ideas about how I think the charter should go, but I'm not going to express it at the moment, it's more appropriate in the right hands first."

Corbet: In looking into the role of the town treasurer in other Fairfield County communities she said the town treasurer is always separate from the Board of Finance, and that the, "Board of Finance is typically elected. We're unusual in that we have an appointed Board of Finance, but it would be up to the electorate."

Bill Sessions asked the final question from the audience. Calling the office of treasurer, as per the charter, "basically ceremonial," he brought the conversation back to the Lakeview Bridge issue. 

"I submit that whatever went wrong, or did go wrong there, has nothing to do with the office of treasurer," he said.

Corbet: Agreeing with Sessions that what happened in the bridge arbitration had nothing to do with Hersam, Corbet said the role of treasurer has been defined by "tradition rather than by statute or charter." She said that with an active treasurer any check the size of the one written in this incident would have have raised a red flag.

Hersam: Thanking Sessions and Corbet for their comments about his role in the Lakeview Bridge issue, he said the problem was between the governing bodies. "The First Selectman, head of the Town Council, Board of Finance were all alerted to this. The Town Council was not alerted. Leadership put it off 'til May. That's where the problem came with the attitude to the members of the Council."

The evening also included statements by the town-wide candidates who are running unopposed.

(Editor's Note: Town Clerk Claudia Weber confirms that the Constables' race has eight candidates and only seven open positions.)

joey dee October 25, 2011 at 03:11 PM
Excuse me, but I am confused. As stated in the article above, last night Kathleen Corbet stated that she agreed with Sessions that what happened in the Lakeview Bridge arbitration had nothing to do with Mr Hersam. So please tell me why Ms Corbet's entire campaign is based on bashing Don Hersham and blaming him for Lakeview Bridge? Why does her website have a link to Lakeview Bridge arbitration which blames Hersam. This is dirty politics and un-civil. Something New Canaan does not need more of. Also Ms Corbet is a supporter of D Malloy and Obama and look what they did to the State of Ct and our country.
Jane Himmel October 25, 2011 at 03:49 PM
Anyone who knows Kathleen knows that she is one of the most gracious people anyone will ever meet. It is not in her character or her campaign materials to bash anyone. She did say that the issuing of the check would have "raised a red flag" to an active Treasurer and that a second set of eyes would have improved the coordination of financial management and information sharing among town bodies. Personally, I think that had Kathleen been in the seat, the town would have been made aware of the ballooning legal expenses while they were occurring, not after the fact.
Jane Himmel October 25, 2011 at 03:51 PM
What I understand Kathleen to be saying in her campaign: times have changed, New Canaan's financial profile has grown in complexity and it is now time for the Treasurer to take an active role in overseeing the flow of money in and out of the Treasury. She would not supplant or usurp town employees, as some have suggested, but work collaboratively with them and elected and appointed officials to manage the town's finances according to the highest industry standards.
David Kostek October 25, 2011 at 03:52 PM
I don't think you've seen Ms. Corbet bashing Mr, Hersam. A link to a public document and article written in the paper Mr, Hersam publishes? Sorry, that is not "dirty politics." Here's your choice, New Canaan: a 24th term for Mr. Hersam, who has not said he'd do anything differently. Or, a new set of eyes watching the taxpayers' money. The fact that they are a Democrat's eyes have no bearing on her capacity to utilize a remarkable set of skills and qualifications to improve the broken processes at Town Hall. Corbet has made pledges to voters: http://www.corbetfornctreasurer.com/my-pledge.html . If you like them, vote for her. If you like a Treasurer who won't make sure the Council, Board of Finance and Selectmen have all properly authorized funds next time, vote to honor Mr. Hersam with a 24th term.
joey dee October 25, 2011 at 04:53 PM
Jane: You are describing the Town CFO's job description. Jane are you an employee of patch or do you get a blogging stipend. If not you are a patch junkie. David Kostek you are bashing Don Hersam in your post stating there is no bashing. Also Jane hindsight is a wonderful tool. We are all geniuses with hindsight. All I have seen is that the media was not too thrilled with Ms. Corbet's handling of Bond ratings relating to the real estate debacle. However using hindsight she might change her opinions on a few of those ratings and look brillant. Really now!
Ilovenewcanaan October 25, 2011 at 05:13 PM
More than a supporter of Malloy, she is a good friend, and do we need our democratic governor being so cozy with our town treasurer. Don't enough of our dollars already go to Hartford?
James T. O'Hora October 25, 2011 at 06:57 PM
With all due respect Jane, you are a bit overexposed on Patch when it comes to the Treasurer's race. For example, On September 21, Patch did an article on the race and I was quoted in the article. They were 15 comments to the story and for some reason; you made 8 of those comments (57%) the other comments were from active DTC Officers. You never mention that you nominated or introduced the Democratic candidate at the DTC caucus ,which is an import fact. Ironic since you always clamor about transparency. This is my first official comment on an article and I’m the RTC Chairman who is fully supporting Mr. V. Donald Hersam, Jr. the incumbent. You seem more focused on this race than anyone in New Canaan, what’s going on and why are you making multiple comments on the same story?
God Bless New Canaan October 25, 2011 at 06:58 PM
No one has blamed Mr Hersam. The fact is that decisions were made to arbitrate $350,000 of the bridge cost for non-performance. This allowed a law firm to bill far in excess of the disputed amount, even though the arbitration case was lost. A check was written for the court ordered payment arguably without proper procedures and examination by the relevant boards. During the evening it was asserted that the only reason the issue was not vetted by the Town Council was that their March agenda was too crowded and was deferred til the May meeting after the payment deadline. This leaves a bitter taste in ones mouth that it was deferred until after the bond Referrendum of April 27, for fear of a negative effect it may have had. The Town Council's Subcommittee report will be an interesting read... Suffice it to say, an extra set of eyes may have sorted this out or at the very least advised the Council no to remove the payment from their agenda. This is not 'bashing' nor does it justify denying Ms. Corbet from office based on her friendship with the Governor of Connecticut.
David Kostek October 25, 2011 at 07:11 PM
Wow. Ilovenewcanaan has no idea how local government works. You can't sincerely believe that Don Hersam could simply send New Canaan tax dollars arbitrarily to cover Governor Rell's budget shortfalls, do you? Well, guess what: there's no way to do anything like that next year once Ms. Corbet is elected. Party affiliation is not relevant here. Voting for Ms. Corbet is voting to enact the things she is pledging to do. Period. Enough with the petty partisan stuff. We really need to get Town Hall's finances in order.
James T. O'Hora October 25, 2011 at 07:27 PM
That's great Jane, now all Patch readers know more about your connection and admiration and relationship with the Democratic candidate for Treasurer then we know before in all your other two dozen postings. That is being fully transparent, just like I disclose my role as RTC Chairman. The prism in which you view this race is very different than the average New Canaan resident/voter. Again, making 57% of the comments and being the first to always respond and tout the candidates website and platform is a bit “over the top” enthusiasm. Just my $ .02 cents Jane.
James T. O'Hora October 25, 2011 at 07:33 PM
OK fair enough Jane, candiates are lucky to have friends and supporters like you. However, I do feel we now know more about your relationship and a grain of salt can be added to many of your comments. Don't change on my account!
mary parker October 26, 2011 at 05:53 AM
Love the answer Hersam gave to one of the questions: "You let talent do the job without interfering" and "I'm not about to change the way this town is being run." Ok my vote has just been swayed to Ms. Corbet. Running this town the same as it has been run and not changing things? So lets continue paying outragiouse lawyer fees of $800,000.00 and all other outragiouse funds to outside firms giving us advise on yes we should do this or no we shouldn't do this. Lets just close our eyes to over spending and not alerting us, the residence of New Canaan who pay for all of these checks written when there just might be a problem with a situation. I for one want to know why a check is being written and for what reason instead of it being hidden until it's too late to object to it. We need the change and need people we can trust and will notify us of any red flags. New Canaan is all of our town not just Town Halls town.
joey dee October 26, 2011 at 02:22 PM
Mary agree with you re change. However the change you speak of is not the Treasurer's role without a charter change. The Democrats claim that the Treasurer's role can be changed without a charter change, that is false campaign fluff. What needs to be changed is the make up of the Board of Finance who okayed those legal fee payments without aprising the TC or town attorney. The Treasurer has nothing to do with this as our charter reads. I heard a comment at the debate that the Board of Finance should be elected not appointed and that the Treasurer should sit on the Board of Finance and not the First Selectman. Although a charter change is necessary to do that it is the only move that would address your concerns. Changing The Town Treasurer is not the answer. Mary are you a DTC member?
Elmcrest October 26, 2011 at 02:48 PM
This is not really a partisan contest, no matter how much some would like us to believe that it is. There is no "Republican" or "Democratic" way to handle the office of Town Treasurer. In our household alone, we have Republican, Democratic and Independent voters, and while we appreciate Mr. Hersam's long tenure and past service, all of us plan to vote for Kathleen Corbet on November 8.
Toddy Turrentine October 26, 2011 at 03:24 PM
If you search the charter, you get a list of the 14 references to the treasurer's duties: http://www.ecode360.com/search/NE0075?query=Treasurer&button= They all fall under what the Treasurer should do in terms of oversight and checking for accuracy before signing, obviously require no Charter change, and have nothing to do with policy or ideology. Elect Kathleen Corbet to keep a careful eye on your tax dollars!
joey dee October 26, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Toddy you are unequivocally incorrect. The New Canaan Town Charter has about three sentences on the duties of the Treasurer. Please show us the 14 references. The charter would have to be changed for any of the functions your candidate Corbet claims she will accomplish. You are spreading falsities as a Registered Democrat. Good Elmhurst maybe New Canaan can claim that our Treasurer is one of the 25 people in America that caused the Financial Crisis. That should preserve our triple A rating.
God Bless New Canaan October 26, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Rather than confusing readers with a narrow game of semantics, there are two documents being referrenced; first the Town Charter, and second the Town Code. The Charter indeed says little related to the Treasurer position, But the Town Code further defines the areas of responsibillity for the Treasurer. C2-1 defines the Treasurer as a town official. A search of the Town Code returns 14 instances where fines, revenues, bonds, taxes, etc. are submitted to or paid by the Treasurer. The town may have evolved to having the Finance Dept. process income and expenditures, but the Treasurer is clearly responsible per the code. http://www.ecode360.com/search/NE0075?query=Treasurer&button
God Bless New Canaan October 26, 2011 at 06:43 PM
The office of Treasurer was created for a purpose and a reason. The Treasurer was defined in New Canaan's charter as an 'Officer Of The Town' for a reason. Mr Sessions comment was "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Even if the ship of state ain't broke, it's probably still a good idea to check it for leaks once in a while. The entire town expenditures for 1965 was 4.5 million (Brd of Ed 3.1 & Town 1.4), with 4.7 million as bonded debt. 46 years later, we have a budget of around 130 million and a debt about the same. The town finances have grown, and the time for a continuance of a ceremonial office has long since passed. In Kathleen Corbet, we have a candidate who wants to bring relevance to the office of treasurer, without changing either the charter or the Town Code.
joey dee October 26, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Da messenger has spoken. Messenger the Town Charter overrides the Town Code. You are making inferences to language. The Treasurer does not handle the items you list. The CFO handles those responsiblities. You are totally incorrect. Your loved candidate (presumably you are a DTC member) cannot overstep the reaches of the Town CFO with her whim. The Town Charter would need to be changed. You are absolutely incorrect. FYI any corporate Secretary is listed as an Officer, however their only fubnction in a small entity is too take notes and produce the minutes of baord and special meetings. Apparently you are not well versed in procedure and trying your best to confuse readers with a narrow game of semantics.
Ginny October 26, 2011 at 07:53 PM
The Town Treasurer signs every check, giving them the authority to approve expenditure, no one can force them to sign it. The Democrats are offering a candidate for the office of Town Treasurer who is saying her name would be hand signed on checks over 5000 or 10,000 dollars an amount to be decided on with the CFO and Selectmens input and she would want to see the paper work for approval of the funds. What I do not understand is the fear of someone looking at the books and approving due process, do you all believe the current treasurer signature must be used if he said no I won't sign that? It takes no charter change he could refuse to sign a check without paper work showing approval. He chooses not to look. I am the chair of the DTC and proud of the candidate we have put forward.
Pocillator October 27, 2011 at 02:04 PM
Pease take the time to read the draft report on the Lakeview Avenue Bridge fiasco. Even when treating the history behind it with kid gloves, it still states, under Decision Point 11 "The Subcommittee strongly recommends a review of the role of the Town Treasurer in order to identify the optimal roles, responsibilities, and expectations for the position." What is frightening about the lengths to which the in crowd will go to maintain their influence, the report also includes this statement: "If the Town chooses to retain the position of Treasurer as strictly ceremonial, a Deputy Treasurer could be appointed WHO WOULD ACTUALLY PERFORM THE INTERNAL CONTROL FUNCTION." That says it all about the sorry state of the Town's Republican Party. They will go to any length to preserve their influence. Not that it matters, but I am a registered Republican and have never voted Democrat in my life, but will be voting for Kathleen.
mary parker October 29, 2011 at 06:25 AM
Joey dee: Does it matter if I am a DTC member? As for your question, I am not but whether I am or not, I will vote for who I feel will do the job and do the job for the residence of this town. I don't want someone who is closing his eyes to money problems in this town or is not seeing that New Canaan needs to change the way it is being run and that the residence need to be more aware of the on goings of how money is being spent. Let's give change a chance to prove itself and if it fails we are no better off than what has happened in the past. These past few years have been a down hill spiral. Do we want it to continue spiraling down with the same way of running this town or should we try something or someone new who just might help us? I for one think that having someone as treasurer who isn't willing to keep their eyes open for us is a mistake. If we have someone notifying the public about stupid spendings we could try to do something about it instead of it getting worse over the next few years. I am just asking to put someone in that just might help us instead of not caring.
mary parker October 29, 2011 at 06:30 AM
Joey dee: by the way thank you for not bashing my opinion like other commenters do to people.

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