The Importance of Sustainability


Sustainability is a word with multiple definitions.  Mention the word sustainability to some people and they will think of it as something that can be maintained at a certain rate or level over time.  Ask others to define it and they will refer to the need to conserve and balance natural resources.  The Town’s responsibility for sustainability falls under both of these definitions.  In the broadest sense of the word Town leaders must be diligent in creating a strong financial process that doesn’t compromise the stability of the Town by cutting the budget for the short term gain at the expense of future sustainability. We as leadership must be diligent in our commitment to sustain the quality of life of today for future generations. We are fortunate that 35% of Rocky Hill’s tax base comes from non-residential/commercial/industrial businesses, which is higher than the state average.  The large nonresidential tax base combined with efficient operations takes a burden off the residents and results in a lower mil rate.

When it comes to energy and resource conservation the Town has a “Plan of Conservation and Development” that addresses sustainability and resiliency. The plan must be updated every ten years as mandated by the state in order to receive associated funding.  These practices include energy and water conservation, waste reduction and recycling in addition to educating the public about sustainability concepts.  The Open Space and Conservation Committee partners with the Community Development, Public Works departments, and the other Town staff in order to reach their goals.

Over the past two years we have made significant strides in leveraging new technologies to reduce our carbon footprint and therefore increase our sustainability. Projects that have been completed include the installation of LED lights in all municipal buildings, conversion to tankless (on demand) water heaters in four locations, and we’ve installed some high efficiency heating systems fueled by natural gas in several locations. Our IT department has converted to “virtual servers” that reduce the need for hardware which then reduces our cooling and electricity demand. Also, as I mentioned in my blog post on public safety, a November referendum has made it possible to “right size” the large number of fire department apparatus.  These multi functional vehicles are smaller, more efficient and affordable, all without compromising the safety of our citizens and fire department staff.

The planned upgrading of field lights and police department parking lot lights to LED are two project that are under way. There is a proposal that is currently in front of the Town Council to convert street lights to LED as well. We are excited about a joint project with Solar City to create a 3 megawatt solar farm in the business park.  The plan is to have it online in less than a year, generating significant savings for the Town over the next 20 years.

Financial sustainability and environmental sustainability will always be linked.  Projects that are “green” reduce our carbon footprint, are more economical and efficient, and ultimately provide financial sustainability for our taxpayers.

Regardless of what definition of sustainability comes to mind, our efforts cover both, they are linked in our firm commitment to build on and preserve the quality of life that makes Rocky Hill an exceptional place to live.

A Look At Public Safety

As Town Manager I have the distinction of serving as the Public Safety Officer, a responsibility I don’t take lightly.  Public safety includes police, fire, and ambulance; and emergency response can frequently include the Department of Public Works.  While we think of the Public Works department when it comes to snow removal, they also provide support and logistics for the first responders in emergencies.  In addition, they work with the crews from the various utility companies to help them expedite restoration of services to the community and we provide a debris cleanup for the residents.


Fire Police

We are fortunate to have within the fire department a specialized volunteer unit called the Fire Police.  This unit provides a variety of services critical to the function of our emergency departments. It also provides one more opportunity for citizens to serve their community.  All of these services are 24/7/365 and while they clearly have routine functions as part of day to day operations, what they’re trained for is to react in a professional, responsive way to whatever emergency or unknown they may be called upon to engage in.

2016 is a historic year for Rocky Hill in terms of the execution of a voter approved referendum to improve the public safety department’s infrastructure. Public safety is an area of government service that doesn’t vary much from town to town. What can vary is the proficiency, the department’s relationship with the public, and the cost.  It’s very common for a referendum such as ours to be brought to the voters several times before it’s approved.  EMSThe facts presented last fall were so compelling that the Rocky Hill voters supported the initiative by a large margin the first year it was rolled out. This acknowledgement by the taxpayers was greatly appreciated by your police and fire departments and the support clearly illustrates the positive relationship that exists between our public safety departments and the public.

The upgrade to our dispatch center was started at the end of May and is scheduled for


Demolition of the new police dispatch area

completion within the next few months. The function and overall communication capability of the dispatch center is the most critical piece of infrastructure, common to all emergency services.  In addition to providing much needed space, this investment provide upgrades to our equipment at the main dispatch center and four remote transmission equipment locations.  At the conclusion of the project we will have a state of the art, fully digitalized emergency dispatch console and radio equipment.  The holding cells at the police station will also be renovated to ensure we meet current building and life safety codes.


Also included in the referendum is a five year plan that will “right size” the fire department fleet.  Some of the current equipment will be sold and new, multi functional trucks will be added.  The fleet size will be reduced from ten large pieces of apparatus to six, but this will in no way impact the service, efficiency or safety of the department.  The result will be better capability at a reduced ongoing cost. This equipment upgrade also includes replacing 100% of the air packs our firefighters use.  This upgrades make sure that these critical components meet today’s highest safety standards.

It takes a special person with certain aptitude to succeed in the numerous paths of our emergency services personnel. The employer has a huge responsibility to first select individuals with the aptitude for such a profession. Next comes a commitment to properly train and retrain employees to insure their capabilities and personal safety in carrying out their mission.  Lack of proper training for the dispatchers puts the general public and the first responders at risk when sent to a scene.  The same concept applies to all first responders – an error or lack of training on their part puts the public, themselves and other emergency crews at risk.


Fire Department training


This obligation of management to ensure proper training for our emergency services staff starts with the budget process. Initial and ongoing training is an expense that is not optional for the Town.  Leadership must take up the mandated duty that ensures proper execution of training and best practices.  We as a Town are very fortunate to have the skill and commitment of men and women serving in our emergency services departments. A large number of our fire service and a portion of our ambulance service are our friends and neighbors who volunteer their services, shielding the Town from significant cost. These positions provide an excellent way for individuals to give back to their community while developing lifelong friends and colleagues.



The Employment Process

In any organization, personnel are its most valuable asset; attracting and retaining quality employees is the goal of every employer.  In order to be successful the hiring process must clearly demonstrate an understanding of the demands of a position and correctly identify the skill set a qualified candidate needs for today and the future.  This knowledge will best facilitate the recruitment and selection of candidates that have the highest probability of being successful in our organization.

The selection process must properly weigh all elements of a job – technical skills, human relation and customer service skills, as well as personal and work ethics.  We must strive for a process that is free of bias, prejudice and discriminatory tendencies.  We have an obligation to tax payers to ensure that our process, while meeting all the legal obligations of today’s society, provides us with a candidate that has the greatest probability for success within our organization.

Recruiting and hiring is made easy when the existing employees are your best ambassadors.  As I mentioned in my April 7th blog post, “…we want Rocky Hill to be a good place to work, with equal or better working conditions, compensation, and benefits than towns around us.”  Hiring is just the first step in the process.  Far too often management fails the new employee and the organization by not properly treating the new employee as an asset that must be nurtured. The first week and the first couple of months are critical in terms of making certain that the new employee is comfortable in their new work environment and recognizes a firm commitment to them as an individual, not just an “employee number”.  When steps are taken to provide the support and training that educates the employee not only on the job requirements, but on the culture of the organization, the employer should expect a good return on their investment.

Anyone that has done much hiring in their career has made mistakes and if you’ve been there you realize these mistakes are costly.  It’s unfair to the person hired who didn’t collectively have the skill set needed to meet the job requirements, and as a result the overall organization suffers.  Making good hiring decisions takes time and practice.  The development and proper execution of the hiring process is a critical step in developing our management team, it’s an integral part of their career growth. The process goes beyond “making a hire” and having the new employee be successful; interviewing and hiring is critical training for managers and future managers.

A strong hiring process can help management problem solve when things don’t go as desired and it provides data to fall back on.  We have a matrix that is customized for each available position so candidates can be rated according to the skills needed to be successful in the job. This data provides a well-documented path that shows how final decisions were made. Each person is interviewed by the same group of people and asked the same questions to ensure they are evaluated by the same standards.  If the success rate of new employees isn’t high you can look at the data, then refine and improve the process.  As an employer, the Town must train, retrain, and cross train its employees, develop an understanding of an individual’s career goals and set clear expectations.  Constant feedback is mandatory, as is respect for the individual.  If an employee is not meeting expectations, management should look inward first and ask – has everything been done to put this employee on the path to success?





Making the Tough Decisions

Budget time always presents challenges for Town staff and political leadership. This year has been particularly difficult with the critical needs of the town and schools coupled with the uncertainty of the state budget.  The budget process for a municipality requires months of preparation and weeks of multiple meetings; staff and officials have to absorb and evaluate years of information and turn it into a cohesive, logical plan with a clear narrative.  Input from citizens is critical – each opinion is valuable, but we have to make decisions we can live with, hoping that our purpose and direction is clear so that we can get support from the majority of constituents.

We start with the overriding principal that we must sustain a quality of life and standard of living (educationally, culturally, and socially) that citizens expect and provide services that benefit most of the community.  Public safety, infrastructure, and basic government services are considered before other items that may be desirable, but not mandated. The capital programs that take care of our facilities and infrastructure are critically important. These assets represent a huge investment made by our citizens and if we don’t maintain or invest in them properly we will create an unnecessary financial obligation in the future.

Tough decisions have to be made as to what can and can’t be supported in a particular year. This is not a quick process, and no one has a crystal ball or perfect view of the future.  We have to be resolute in guarding against reducing short term pain at the cost of long term sustainability. It is incumbent upon appointed and elected officials to deal with the highest priorities based on actual needs. We must sort out emotionally driven appeals that aren’t supported by fact and make long term decisions that are best for the community. The unbiased effort that is put forth by analyzing data and asking the difficult questions allows us to make conscious, deliberate decisions that identify and protect essential services.

We are days away from finalizing the budget, and once the final vote is cast by the Town Council, we immediately go into execution mode, there will be no time for second guessing. The Town staff will pull together as a team and immediately begin to focus on how to be as efficient and effective as possible with the resources we have available, while adhering to any policy direction we may have received. Like most things we do, this relies upon us getting “the right things right” so in the end we do what’s best for the citizens of Rocky Hill.

The Municipal Budget Process

This is the time of year when the Town budget and finances get a lot of attention. In reality, when done right, the budget process is a continuous effort that goes on all year round.  Creating a Town budget relies heavily on history and forecasting.  The work we do in March, April, and May requires us to draw upon excellent historical data and look ahead to our anticipated needs based on what we know will happen and what might happen – a year from now and beyond.  No one has a crystal ball, reasonable adjustment throughout the year are authorized by state statutes and the Town Charter. We can’t afford to practice “Bullseye Management” where we throw the dart and then draw the circle around it. We must take a hard look at previous accomplishments and shortcomings; achievements must be measured against objectives and goals that were set the previous year.

In an effective organization budgeting is a yearlong process. Town staff prepare monthly reports for the Town Council and Finance Committee. The annual budget sets the course for where we want to go and frequent updates ensure we’re headed in the right direction or it identifies the needs for course modification.  We don’t set a dollar amount first and then determine the priorities.  We have to set priorities and sequencing, measure the economic impact, and then create a budget to support those goals. The budget hearings and workshops are designed to achieve a high degree of citizen involvement and understanding providing transparency throughout the process. The administration must have a strong command of operational issues facing the organization, as well as an excellent and detailed understanding of its finances.  We also must recognize that we may need to make adjustments midstream, because the unexpected will happen.

At a high level municipal budgeting is no different than creating a corporate or household budget. In government the formality of the budget process provides a wide angle view for all stakeholders; it facilitates a transparent and active discussion on the many priorities facing leadership. Each budget year is different, some are more challenging than others, but the process must be consistent.  It starts with the recognition of our successes and failures to date, continues with a reevaluation of priorities and a genuine willingness to compromise – all without abandoning the need to stay strategically focused.  Once decisions have been made and the budget finalized it’s the obligation of employees and operational leadership to move forward and execute the budget with a positive attitude and a mindset of excellence as we serve the public with the approved plan.

Fostering a Positive Relationship with Employee Bargaining Units

I began my career with a utility company that had large employee bargaining units (commonly referred to as unions), and it was clear early on that the influence of an employee bargaining unit could have multiple benefits. Unions ensure, from a collective standpoint, that employee voices are heard and that fairness and equity are infused into day-to-day management practices. The philosophy I was taught, and the one I adhere to, is to treat people with the same respect you would expect from your superiors and to be open and straightforward in your communications. I stress to my management team that at the end of the day we are in the people business. We want Rocky Hill to be a good place to work, with equal or better working conditions, compensation, and benefits than towns around us. Employees can come to work confident that management has their best interests in mind, but it must be a balanced interest between employees, citizens, and organizational needs.

History is crystal clear that unions became necessary to combat poor management practices and mistreatment of workers—these are the legacies that we live with today. A well-executed bargaining unit contract benefits both management and employees by ensuring fair documented processes for dealing with personnel related situations that arise in the workplace. In the end union contracts provide clarity, a specificity of process which eliminates ambiguity on how we deal with issues.  When done right, contracts benefit both the employee and the organization.

In Rocky Hill we have six distinct unions representing various groups. We have a seventh group of employees who are not represented by a bargaining unit.  Our obligation is the same to all groups—to work towards a positive employee experience while being mindful of business objectives and our obligations to work for the best interests of taxpayers and the municipal entity.

Now is a particularly busy time for labor relations in Rocky Hill. We have concluded negotiations with one union, whose bargaining agreement was recently approved by the Town Council, and three additional successor contracts will be negotiated soon. The bargaining team for the employees of the recently approved agreement, and all those involved in the process, deserve credit for their hard work and ability to find common ground during negotiations.  Both management and employee representatives took seriously their obligations to listen, use fact-based analysis, and compromise.

After considerable compromise on both sides, the agreement we reached was straightforward and resulted from both sides’ willingness to look at the realities of our current economic environment. Our key objective as we began talks, and what we’ll continue to do as we move forward with other negotiations, was to ensure a consistent  approach to negotiations that balanced the interests of three (3) stakeholders—the employees, Rocky Hill’s taxpayers, and the municipality itself.  While we recognized differences in employee skill sets and contributions, we believed that those differences should be addressed through compensation; not necessarily through differences in benefits.  It is our goal that this contract, and other successor contracts, will serve to benefit all stakeholders.

The “One Breath Rule”

“The concept of the “one breath rule” is to strongly relay to employees that they must report and / or take action immediately on any report or observance of what is or appears to be a discriminatory, harassing, or illegal act. “The one breath” concept is basically saying that you can only take one breath of air before you report the issue – no delays, no thinking about it overnight, no waiting to see if happens again.  I stress that it is a compulsory obligation of each employee and especially so for the senior staff.”

I have been fortunate in my career to have received excellent managerial training. Early on when taking a class I learned about the “One Breath Rule”.  The catchy title caught my attention and I wondered how it related to managing an organization.  This rule highlights the significance of the timeliness of action when a manager or employee observes what they believe to be a discriminatory, harassing or illegal act.

The “One Breath Rule” is of such importance to me that it’s my lead off topic when meeting with new managers or management teams; and it’s repeated often in subsequent meetings. It is a hard expectation; there are no gray areas.  Waiting to report an incident is not acceptable as the Town has a clear legal obligation to investigate reported actions.  This is important to the employee who may be experiencing harassment, and it’s equally important to those against whom the accusations are being made.  If the allegations are true the actions must be stopped immediately.  If they are not true the person being accused has a right to have their name cleared.

The “One Breath Rule” aids in our mission for honesty, integrity and trustworthiness in all we do. It provides a clear path of action for all employees, promotes transparency and gives higher level management an opportunity to take appropriate action.