With a desire to put her financial background and what she terms her ‘consensus building ability’ to work, Kit Devereaux is running for first selectman — the top, paid elected post in New Canaan. She shared her thoughts recently with the Advertiser during an interview on Friday, Sept. 29.
Devereaux has been a resident of New Canaan for 25 years. “They’ve been the best 25 years of my life,” she said. Over that quarter of a century, she has become known to many locals by serving on the Board of Finance, Town Council, Charter Revision Commission and she currently serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission. She also headed the Lakeview Avenue Bridge Subcommittee in 2011 to review unauthorized payments of large cost overruns in that project.
A Democrat, Devereaux is opposing Republican Town Councilman Kevin Moynihan for the first selectman’s seat.
Devereaux moved up from New York City after working as a vice president for Salomon Brothers for eight years, starting in bond portfolio analysis then in a portfolio strategy group. She earned an MBA in Finance from the Stern School of Business at New York University. She gave up her professional career when her daughter was born.
As much as Devereaux says she prefers to give people the benefit of the doubt, she says she can also be tough. For example, she said she adroitly navigated the largely male financial profession in the early 1980’s, she explained. “I had to be able to be respected without being strident,” she said.
“Tough is working 60 hours a week and taking four courses,” she said. “Tough is surviving at a place like Salomon brothers in a real male environment,” she added.
However, “I’m not unnecessarily tough, I’d like to take the high road every chance I get,” she said.
Devereaux believes her financial background can help her as first selectman, and she has a couple of goals for the town, including more efficient budgeting that is zero-based.
With zero-based budgeting “a department manager would not presume that whatever was there the year before would be there this year,” she said. “Preferably, department heads would go through and build the budget again, each year from the ground up,” she said.
As first selectman, she would convene monthly meetings with finance heads of the town and Board of Education to identify ways to save money.
Cell service and NIMBY
Devereaux believes the town must improve cell service. “It really is a safety issue,” she said. “Developing nations have far better cell service than we do,” she added “And sometimes we get so wrapped up in NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) issues, it gets in the way of the greater good,” she added.
Having said that, “I don’t think the parents at West School should have to worry if science is with them or it is not with them,” she said, referring to the consideration of West School for a cell tower site. “So let’s say West School is off the table,” she added.
She thinks one option for a cell tower would be on the Clark property on Michigan Road, which is a 23.1 acre plot that was deeded to the town in 1956. “I walked that property and it seems to me that you could have a 75×75 foot base there,” needed for a cell tower, without disturbing the wetlands, she explained.
Devereaux believes commuter parking is an important concern to residents. “I know that my opponent is committed to the lumber yard,” she said, referring to the fact that Moynihan actually announced his candidacy near the lumber yard lot, on Elm Street to underscore his desire to use it as a solution to the parking problem.
“My concern with that is that there are 351 people that park there on a daily basis and most of them waited nine years for their parking permits, and I am thinking it is not going to be an easy thing to displace them for a year or two,” she said.
“I am just not convinced that every place has been looked at as thoroughly as it might be. We need to put everything on the table,” she said.
She suggested the town consider tiering the train station parking on Pine Street across from building were Mrs. Green’s was located.
Also, she wants to consider a recommendation from an old study, which advised using either side of Cherry Street for permanent parking. “Not all of it, just some of it,” she said.
Lesson from fields
The Advertiser asked her opinion of the public – private fields project that has attracted criticism after the Fields Building Committee took over two months to tell the public that the project was being revised because of costs being underestimated.
“I found it to be very disappointing,” she said, but she wanted to move on to finding solutions.
“If there is public money involved, the town really needs to be the body in charge,” she said. “I think before we get involved with ventures like this, it needs to be clearly delineated what is expected of each party,” she said.
“Nobody was profiting from this, it was all people trying to do the right thing,” she added.
Learning from the past
Devereaux feels that the Audit Committee, which she said her Lakeview Bridge committee had recommended for the town, will help the townspeople understand what happened in the fields incident. The Audit Committee was subsequently established by the Town in 2014 and “is responsible for making sure that everything is financially on the up and up,” she said.
She said that when she headed up the committee of the Lakeview Avenue Bridge, “There were huge overruns,” she said. ”It was the mother of all bad things converging,” she added.
“We also recommended a change in the treasurer’s role to make it more what it is today,” she said. “There were a number of recommendations that have made a difference,” she said.
Town Center change
Devereaux questions the regulations on mixed-use buildings away from town center that require commercial use but exclude professional office use on the ground floor. Instead the mixed use buildings “could put professional offices on the ground floor … It would help those building owners and at the same time it would help town center,” she said.