Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Town administrator gets 3% raise, 'excellent' rating for first year

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
August 21, 2007

VERNON — Town Administrator Christopher Clark's first-year performance was rated excellent by the mayor as he and 65 other nonunion and permanent part-time employees netted a 3 percent pay raise courtesy of the Town Council.

In releasing her evaluation for the town's top administrative position last week, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said Clark's work during his inaugural year with the town was superior.

"I'm extremely happy with what he brought to the community in the past year," Marmer said, adding that the Town Council needs to be more mindful of Clark's tremendous workload.

"We don't have the luxury of an assistant town administrator, or at the very least the appropriate number of people needed to accomplish the many projects he juggles on a daily basis," Marmer said.

In her review, Marmer noted Clark's three major strengths: his ability to communicate effectively and work in a positive manner, find creative solutions based on past experience, and dedication to the job and community.

"His only limitation from my standpoint is the need to continue his education in the history and inner workings of our community, which will come with additional time of service," Marmer wrote.

For Clark, who claims to have little patience for the oft times slow moving wheel of government, the experience so far has been mostly positive.

"I've been pretty pleased with efforts over the last year, particularly in securing grants," Clark said in an interview last week.

Vernon Town Administrator Christopher Clark
Irena Pastorello / Journal Inquirer
Vernon Town Administrator Christopher Clark stands in a section of Vernon Town Hall scheduled for renovation.

Securing a GIS department is tops on his list of improvements, saying the new coordinator is now purchasing and installing a computer system that will be integrated and accessible for town functions, most notably planning and assessment.

The system will have cost savings in terms of alleviating workload of town staff, streamlining operations, and making information readily available to the general public, Clark says.

But grants management is really where the fruits of Clark's labor ripened.

Close to $10 million has been secured in a little over one year for such projects as road repairs to Bolton Road and West Main Street, the Amerbelle Mill project which hopes to retain over 100 jobs, restoration of the Town Hall third floor, and environmental cleanup of Roosevelt Mills.

The $6 million downtown intermodal transportation center is also on the horizon, Clark said, adding that design proposals will be sought over the next year with the hope for construction by July 2009.

Clark says he is also proud of work done on the long awaited Central Park renovation. The project hit a snag when the contractor went missing for two months this summer, but now that daily $500 fines have been levied, it is set for completion soon.

Many of the projects were first started by his predecessor, Laurence R. Shaffer, and a lot of the credit goes there, Clark said.

"But the grunt work is getting them done and focus on seeing them through to fruition, and a lot of that has happened in the last year," he added.

Besides grant work, Clark says he is also pleased with the mayor and council's support on work done to control blight throughout town.

But if anything could be called a disappointment in his first year, Clark says, it's the downtown Citizen's Block building, which continues to sit empty and neglected after going through the bidding and advertising process twice.

The town had tried to entice private developers to restore the building, but Clark says another approach may be warranted.

"In order to revitalize any neighborhood, public money has to go into infrastructure," Clark said. "Once people see an infrastructure improvement, they take pride in their community and want it to do better."

Clark, 41, a Massachusetts resident with government experience in both the Boston area and the Midwest, was tapped to become town administrator in June 2006.

Now in his 17th year of public administration, Clark commutes each day from Sturbridge, Mass., overseeing a staff of 221 people in the Vernon town government.

It was his proposal last month that all non-union and part-time employees be given wage increases, as in the last five years they've received smaller raises than unionized workers and make 1.5 percent less as a result.

The council approved the measure last month, and according to finance officials the town's cost totals $57,300 for general workers, $4,400 for cemetery workers, and $1,100 for waste-management workers. Funding for the raises was included in the current budget.

The raises will be retroactive to July 1.

Clark's 3 percent raise, which is merit-based and dependent on his annual review, will not be doubled as a result, however.

©Journal Inquirer 2007