Tesoro prepares for transition

With her inauguration about three weeks away, Democratic First Selectman-elect Vicki Tesoro said she already is hard at work, preparing to hit the ground running her first day in office.

“The business of government doesn’t stop because there’s someone new in the office,” Tesoro said. “Business continues no matter who’s in the seat.”

Tesoro said she and a small transition team are preparing for their first challenge upon taking office: the budget.

“The Board of Education budget request is normally out before the swearing-in ceremony, usually around Thanksgiving,” she said. “Certainly the budget is always one of the biggest priorities, and we’ll be meeting with department heads throughout this time.”

Tesoro, who will take office with an 11-10 majority on the Town Council, said she also is looking at issues that were part of her election platform, including senior tax relief, a return to seven council districts, and a referendum on the senior and community center.

“That’s what I campaigned on,” she said of the seven-district proposal. “It should have gone for at least a debate in the council, and that didn’t happen, so we will be discussing that on a council agenda.”

Tesoro also advocated a townwide vote on the proposed community center, and she is interested in having that happen as soon as practical, she said.

“I campaigned on bringing that to a vote and letting voices be heard,” she said. “I can’t foresee what the council will do, but based on what they do I will continue to advocate that this go to the people for a referendum.”

Another plank in Tesoro’s platform was a plan to open the Town Charter and disallow any first selectman to sign employees to contracts longer than that first selectman’s term in office. That issue has recently come up as outgoing First Selectman Tim Herbst signed four-year contracts for Economic and Community Development Director Rina Bakalar and Labor Relations Director James Haselkamp. Both already had contracts running into mid-2020, and both signed new deals on Nov. 3, a month before Herbst leaves office. Under the new contracts Bakalar and Haselkamp are under contract until Oct. 1, 2021, earning $115,000 and $128,000, respectively.

The new contracts were signed just days before the election, with Bakalar and Haselkamp each serving as witness for the other’s signature. The timing of Herbst’s action to extend the employment of department heads that each had three years remaining on their contracts indicates a desire to maintain influence in Town Hall, Tesoro said. When The Times attempted to reach him for comment Wednesday, Herbst’s office staff said he was out of the office for the day.

“He signed these contracts before the election, not knowing who was going to be the next first selectman,” Tesoro said. “Part of my platform was to disallow long-term contracts for people that could handcuff a future first selectman from appointing people they believe would best serve the role, and certainly that’s exactly what Mr. Herbst did.