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Karl Kilduff (left), a former town manager in North Branford and most recently the executive director of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, has been offered the position of Clinton’s first town manager by Town Council Chair Chris Aniskovich (right) by unanimous town Council vote. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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The new year will officially bring new changes to Clinton's town government. On Dec. 11 Clinton's Town Council (TC) unanimously voted to offer Karl Kilduff the position of Clinton's first town manager. Pending Kilduff accepting the contract, his first day on the job will be Jan. 6, 2020.
On Dec. 4, the TC exited a lengthy executive session only to announce that it had not yet reached a decision on which of the three finalists would be offered the job. At a Dec. 11 special meeting, the council again went into an executive session, but this time the members had news to announce when they came out.
The council unanimously approved a motion to offer Kilduff the position with a start date of Jan. 6 and for minor changes to be made to the contract. Once in place Kilduff will be responsible for the day to day operations of the town that were previously handled by the First Selectmen. The three-year contract pays an annual salary of $165,000 for three years, according to TC Chairman Chris Aniskovich.
At press time, Kilduff had not yet signed a contract. Per the town charter a town manager’s contract cannot be for a term longer than three years, however there is no limit to how many times the town can execute a contract with any particular town manager. While residence in Clinton was discussed as a possible condition of any contract, it is not included in the current offer.
Kilduff was most recently the executive director of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority. Prior that post, Kilduff served as the town administrator in Darien from 2008 to 2015, the town manager of North Branford from 2001 to 2009, and as the city manager of Johnstown, Pennsylvania from 1998 to 2001.
Following the meeting, Kilduff told the Harbor News that “I’m honored to have the support of the council. It’s a high achievement for me personally and professionally.”
Kilduff said that there is much for him to do between now and when he officially starts in his role. Kilduff said he will begin a period of outreach to different departments and staff members to introduce himself and that once he takes office “the budget will dominate most of the time.”
Aniskovich said that Kilduff impressed the council with his leadership experience at both the town and state level.
The council also authorized Aniskovich to make minor changes to Kilduff’s contract; Aniskovich said “minor changes means minor,” mainly correcting spelling mistakes.
When the TC officially took office in November, the councilors appointed Peter Neff as interim town manager for a term of up to 180 days. When he was appointed, Neff told the Harbor News that he was looking at what town policies had to be updated for a town manager form of government. Aniskovich said Neff will still serve as interim manager until Kilduff takes office and that the three would have a meeting together to discuss the town manager role in addition to what Neff has been working on since being appointed.
“We’ll have those conversations so we can pick his brain on things,” said Aniskovich.
Upon the TC members announcing their selection of Kilduff, Town Manager Search Committee Chairman Phil Sengle said “I feel so good about this I can’t stop smiling. Starting from the charter battles to the search it’s been a long process.”
The Charter Battles
Getting a town manager in place in Clinton has been a thorough, years-long, and sometimes strange endeavor. The most recent roots of the effort began in 2017 when that year’s charter revision commission recommended the town change from the board of selectmen (BOS) style of government to a town manager form of government. In July 2017, the BOS declined to send the proposal forward to a public vote. Following that decision, a coalition of citizens who felt that residents should be given the right to vote on the matter successfully garnered enough signatures on a petition that the town was required to allow the citizens to vote.
Initially, the BOS declined to put the proposed changes on the November 2017 ballot, partly due to an oversight by the petition organizers that the proposed charter provided no listed date for the changes to go into effect; under that situation, a “Yes” vote to the changes would have meant the town had to make the switch within 30 days of the vote. The coalition members agreed with the selectmen’s rationale for postponing the vote.
However, the day after two primaries in September 2017 in which four of the five selectmen at the time were defeated, the BOS reversed course and voted to include the proposed changes on the November ballot. The surprise move led to the same coalition that encouraged voters to sign the petition to then ask voters to instead vote “No” at the polls that November. The three questions concerning changes to the charter were defeated on election day.
Upon taking office in late 2017 then-first selectman Christine Goupil, who had been a proponent of the town manger position, announced the town would once again convene a charter revision commission with a goal of putting charter changes up for a public vote on election day of 2018.
The 2018 proposed charter changes received unanimous support from that iteration of the BOS and were successfully added to the November ballot. Voters chose to make the switch to the town manager form of government by a margin of 4,317 to 1,540. Due to a stipulation that the majority of total registered voters had to vote “Yes,” not simply a majority of those voting that day, it was not immediately clear if the change had passed on election night and a recount was planned. However, the night before the scheduled recount the town announced that the town attorney and registrars of voters had certified that the measure had indeed passed after using an algorithm per state statute; no recount was needed.
In 2019, the BOS appointed the town manager search committee to assist with the transition. The committee was charged in part with writing the town manager job description and vetting the more than 40 candidates who applied for the position. The committee assisted the Town Council with whittling the applicant pool down to the three finalists who were invited to Clinton in early December.
In addition to Kilduff, the council also interviewed finalists James Chandler and Kyle Coleman. On Dec. 2 and 3, the finalists were each given tours of the town and a chance to meet the Town Hall staff and town employees. They each sat through several interview sessions and had a public meet and greet at the Town Hall that was attended by more than 50 members of the public.
“I think all three candidates were good, they were all strong and were all likable,” Sengle said. “I think we have a terrific candidate.”
Sengle said that he believes the change will bring increased professionalism to Town Hall, which will allow the town to run better. In the past, Sengle has argued that while new selectmen are learning the ropes of the office, town managers are able to spend that time applying for grants or other items to help their town.
“This is going to be great for Clinton’s future, it’ll make such a difference,” said Sengle.
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