CT: Michael Maniscalco, Town of East Hampton

What do we hope to learn from this series? We hope you will gain a better understanding of the unique characteristics of local government in each state, we hope you will learn that there are others like you who are motivated to make a difference through the public sector, and we hope you will learn that it is best to learn from others’ mistakes than yours.

Our Take on Connecticut

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It’s our second visit to Connecticut – first time around we heard from Roger Kemp, former City Manager and President of Kemp Consulting. This time we hand the microphone over to Michael Maniscalo, Town Manager, for his take on local government in Connecticut.

Let’s recap what we learned about the Constitution State last time:

No Counties. You read that right, in the 1960’s the state did away with counties, they still remain primarily for statistical and weather forecasting purposes. The county sheriff remains, but this not so subtle difference makes for a different local government dynamic than you might find elsewhere.

Without counties in the mix, local government finds itself offering an assortment of additional services to residents. That’s not the only difference, town hall meetings make the annual budget process anything but typical. A legislative body and partisan finance boards can turn the budget process into a nine month exercise in civic engagement.

The state is divided into 169 towns, which serve as the fundamental political jurisdictions.There are also 21 cities most of which are coterminous with their namesake towns and have a merged city-town government. We should also mention the state has nine boroughs which provide additional services.

 Background Check

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Position: Town Manager

Organization: Town of East Hampton, CT

Education: University of South Dakota, MPA

Connect: LinkedIn |Twitter

Michael graduated from the University of South Dakota in 2006 and also completed a Masters Degree in Public Administration there in 2008.  Before arriving in East Hampton, CT Maniscalo served as Director of the Lincoln-Logan County Development Partnership in Illinois.

Michael completed his undergraduate degree in history and has translated his passion for the subject into a career serving the public. After completing an MPA degree, he worked as a Research Assistant for the South Dakota Oral History Center, National Leadership Grant Project Coordinator for the Illinois State Museum Society, and Program Manager for the Autism Program of Illinois. Experience writing grants, negotiating contracts, managing committees and budgets, interpreting policy and coordinating organizational partnerships all prepared Michael for a new career experience. In 2012 Michael said farewell to the Land of Lincoln when he was named Town Manager in East Hampton, CT.

Background Check on East Hampton

The Town of Easy Hampton (population: 13,352) is located about half way between Boston and New York. Think that your town is old? East Hampton was incorporated in 1767, only then it was known as Chatham. By the 1880’s the community became known as Belltown, USA, recognizing its prominent position in the manufacturing of sleigh bells (amongst other uses for bells – keeping track of your cows). In 1915 the modern community of East Hampton was formed, combining three villages into one town. The trio villages included Cobalt (known for mining), Middle Haddam (ship building), and Chatham (bell making).  Over the years novelists, musicians, a governor, and even Miss Connecticut have called East Hampton home. East Hampton remains true to its roots today, providing all of the hand bells Salvation Army uses during the holiday season.

Lighting Round

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Best piece of advice from your parents.

The best advice I ever received was actually from my grandfather. He said ”It is ok if you grow up to be a ditch digger as long as you are the best ditch digger you can be”. I try to implement that theory every day.

In a dream world, which bands would headline your retirement party?

Nirvana, Rusted Root, Frank Sinatra, The Verve followed by a good old fashioned marching band.

Before I die I want to…….Make a difference.

Three most influential books in your life.

  • Freakonomics
  • Super Freakonomics
  • Good to Great “Jim Collins”

If you could FaceTime with five people (dead or alive and not including family members), who would be on the list?funny-thomas-jefferson-pictures-i16

  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Steve Jobs
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Bill Clinton
  • Napoleon

Describe the inside of your car. My car is actually incredibly clean since it is new. I have a duffle bag in the back that includes all of the emergency response numbers for the Town and State. There is also every emergency plan for the community in the bag as well as a hard hat, safety glasses, rain slicker, work gloves and ear protection.

What’s the meaning of life? To serve others so that your family, community and you may prosper today and tomorrow.

Q & A

What's on the agenda tonight?

Give us three bullet points that best describe local government in your state.

  • Local government in CT is very connected to the Colonial era still utilizing the Town Meeting. It is very inclusive of the community allowing for referendum on most large expenditures.
  • Without county government Local government is “it”. We do everything from emergencies to infrastructure.
  • Local government in CT gets the job done.

We’ll assume you didn’t grow up dreaming about a career in local government. What was your dream job as a 12-year old? What was your first local government job? 

I actually wanted to be an ambassador or an international attorney of some sort. My first local government job was as the economic development director for a County. Prior to that I had been working for a state funded nonprofit and our continued existence was tenuous with the economic down turn. As a result, I was looking for a position that would be more stable that I could start and support a family with. The rest is history.

Give us your top three career accomplishments.

  • I negotiated a tax agreement with a local developer that ensured the development of a 71 acre mixed use commercial residential, live where you work, development.

We often learn from our mistakes. Name one or two career mistakes that you have made that you think we could learn from.

It is tough to admit to a mistake but I would say the hardest mistake I have made was to believe information given to me at its face value. I have learned over the years that you have to check and re check information to ensure it is factual. Even when under a time restraint you must continue to check. The second mistake would be getting so absorbed in work that I forgot to say hi to an employee when I walked by. While it is a little thing, it was a big to that employee.

Our experience has been many of our friends, family, and neighbors are not well versed in what it is we do in local government, many think we are a “planner” or “mayor”. Has this been your experience?

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Yes, this has been my experience. I have a friend whose kids call me “the mayor” and I was even called “Mr. Mayor” by some of our volunteer firefighters for a while. I have always told people I am a Manager which means I have a degree in this profession often times Mayors don’t.

How can local governments better communicate their role in the everyday lives of the community?

We do a very good job at what we do and if we are doing our job right we are often not noticed. I think we do a very poor job at online communications like social media. I have also been pushing our leisure service units to promote what they do more since they are some of the only departments that have a positive interaction with the public.

Would you encourage your family and friends to consider a career in local government?

Yes, it’s a stable job, you get to help people and can make a difference.

Hypothetically, if we find ourselves interviewing for a job in front of you, talk about three steps we can take to make a good impression.

  • Research our community. Know what our challenges are and understand what role you may play in those challenges.
  • Provide me with creative solutions to problems.
  • Don’t let me think that you will bring me problems without solutions.

Mentoring is such an important part of local government. Name three of your mentors.

  • Steve Smith my board chair at the economic development partnership.

(Complete the sentence) In 2018, local government will be ……leaner, meaner, more efficient, and more effective.

What question(s) should we have asked you? 

You should have asked about politics and how politics can seriously effect good government on the local level. You also should ask about education and the effect education spending impacts local government in CT (over 78% of local taxes go to education).

Supplemental Reading

 

East Hampton Manager reflects on first year in office

Development Partnership Directors first 100 days

East Hampton announces new Village Manager

50 Nifty Archives