Some voters will head to their towns’ polls on Tuesday to choose from among zero qualified candidates for top elected offices—New Canaan is fortunate in having two.
Kit Devereaux, the Democratic candidate, and her opponent, Republican Kevin Moynihan, both bring big brains, useful experience and strong records of community service to their bids for the top job at Town Hall.
Three demonstrated skills—ability to say ‘No,’ manage people and work outside of party politics—make Devereaux better equipped.
Forthright and assured, Moynihan is a Town Councilman and retired corporate attorney who has the bearing of a first selectman and would also make a good one. His central strength is his creativity. He is a diligent researcher and independent thinker who takes nothing at face value and relishes the challenges of problem-solving.
Devereaux’s record of service to the community is longer and more consequential.
She served on the Board of Finance and Town Council, then on the Charter Revision Commission and, most recently, Parks & Recreation Commission.
Inquisitive and affable, Devereaux is a retired finance professional who garnered wide respect among New Canaan residents and officials even as she guided the town through some of its most sensitive and far-reaching legislation.
As chairman of the Town Council Lakeview Avenue Bridge Subcommittee, Devereaux led a small group into the political minefield of making recommendations after town officials without authorization spent $1.5 million in cost overruns on that project. Those recommendations, made six years ago, included the creation of an Audit Committee (see page 22 here) and suggestion that the town treasurer function become more than ceremonial (page 21).
On Parks & Rec, she led a successful effort to move drone and quad-copter operators away from conspicuous and heavily used areas of Waveny that long have been designated for passive recreation. In her work on Charter Revision, Devereaux backed one of the commission’s key recommendations—voted up by the electorate last year—involving a change with respect to the first selectman’s role on the Board of Finance. The change had been strongly opposed by the members of that board—yet Devereaux has earned the endorsement of its chairman.
In short, Devereaux has shown a rare ability to say ‘No’ effectively, without engendering ill will—a quality that New Canaan’s next first selectman surely must possess, given what will be a diminished Grand List.
Yet Moynihan’s solutions often involve spending money in some way—by special appropriation (library), siphoning of revenue (Land Acquisition Fund) or major capital project (Lumberyard Lot decking). Devereaux, by contrast, consistently has urged caution and consensus with respect to any expenditure. She alone has raised the specter of budget-padding among municipal department heads and proposed a way to solve it, and she has called for New Canaan to look beyond the important work of the Town Building Evaluation & Use Committee to figure out whether bringing workmen onto the municipal payroll to maintain town-owned buildings would save taxpayer money over one-off major capital projects.
Devereaux also is a better choice for first selectman in that New Canaan needs a CEO now who will stabilize key corners of Town Hall by drawing and retaining the best people to work for the town. Department heads will tell you that New Canaan misses its former budget director and former-former town planner. The highly capable town planner and CFO in place now are working on interim bases. They’ll also say that it takes one to two years to get a new first selectman fully up to speed on how the town actually works.
While both candidates for first selectman can boast extensive project management backgrounds, neither is a proven people manager. Devereaux, however, is better positioned to climb that learning curve and accelerate in the job, both by temperament and style.
Finally, the next first selectman should represent New Canaan without regard for party politics. The town itself is rapidly moving past it. New Canaan in recent years has seen a dramatic rise among unaffiliated voters, a change that has brought about the first time in memory that Republicans, though they still represent the largest single party in town, no longer account for more than half of the electorate.
The next town CEO should continue what has been one major achievement of First Selectman Rob Mallozzi by eschewing party politics to include a broader base of residents in town appointments.
New Canaan voters are, on the whole, media-savvy, independent and sophisticated thinkers. Except perhaps among some committed entirely to a specific town committee, party affiliation alone matters less than the strengths of an individual candidate. Devereaux has collaborated well across party lines in town government and elsewhere, including during a recent stint as president of the League of Women Voters, and it has earned her support from some local lifelong Republicans.