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Westport Finance Board Focuses on Transparency

WESTPORT, Conn. – With the goal of allowing residents greater insight into its operations, Westport's new Board of Finance, now under a Republican majority, is instituting a number of changes to become more transparent.

Among them are seven committees created by the board's new chairman, Avi Kaner, who was unanimously elected Wednesday night. Each committee, which will focus on an area that needs "critical attention now," will be chaired by a member of the seven-member board, Kaner said.

Janis Collins, who was elected to her first term in November, will lead the Financial Planning and Reporting Committee. Among her responsibilities, Collins will work with the town's finance director on monthly status reports, which the finance director will present to the board at the start of every meeting. Collins said she will also focus on making the town's finances more transparent by developing "simple reports" the public can access at meetings and online.

Former board chairman Helen Garten, who was unanimously elected vice chairman, will oversee the Legal, Contractual and Labor Committee. This means she will be oversee contract and labor negotiations.

Kaner and Garten will co-chair the Government Efficiency Committee. This committee, Kaner said, will focus on finding ways the town and schools can consolidate services. "We'd rather save money by consolidating, not by cutting town or school services," he said.

Board member Tom Lasersohn, who was appointed in February and won his first full term in November, will head the Employee Benefits Committee. In this position, Lasersohn said he will focus on how the town's employee benefits, including Other-Post Employment Benefits (OPEB), compare to those for neighboring towns and private-sector employees.

John Pincavage, who was elected to his first term this past November, will chair the Public Safety Committee. He will focus on finding efficiencies within the police and fire departments, while maintaining high levels of services.

Mike Rea, who was also elected to his first term in November, will lead the Revenue Enhancement Committee, which will focus on ways to raise revenue. "This does not mean raising taxes," Rea assured the public.

Finally, member Brian Stern will chair the Audit Committee, which will focus on protecting and monitoring processes that affect the town's assets.

The formation of these committees was just one change Kaner has made. As a way to improve communication between the town and the board, he has instituted weekly meetings with First Selectman Gordon Joseloff.

The chairman said the board will also receive status reports from the town's internal auditor. But "in the spirit of full transparency," Kaner said, major issues will be brought before the board for discussion, even if the board is not voting on the issue.

And even though the board now has a Republican majority, Kaner, a Republican, said it will operate in a less partisan way than before as he and Garten, a Democrat, are sharing the leadership.

"We want to make the best possible decisions for the town while remaining civil," he said.

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