EAST LYME — With a background in management consulting and seven years on the Board of Finance, Democrat Camille Alberti said, if elected, she will bring a unique set of skills and qualifications to the role of first selectman and will focus on growing the grand list through redevelopment, finding a solution for Oswegatchie Hills and creating efficiencies in the town’s inventory of buildings.
“What I think I can bring to the table is a unique set of skills and qualifications to elevate and almost brand our town as a model in the state around issues such as creating more excellence in our school system or tackling climate environmental issues, which isn’t in the forefront as much as I think it should be,” she said in an interview with CT Examiner at her home on September 27. “Tackling responsible and tasteful economic development is really important to me and not least of all significant, is the ability to implement policies and procedures that elevate the standard of ethics and fairness in governance.”
Alberti earned a degree in accounting from Pace University and worked in professional management consulting, first for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and later as an independent consultant for Fortune 500 companies, with Mercedes Benz and Volvo Car Financial Services in America as her two main clients.
Alberti, her husband Mark, and their son Chase, moved from Kent, New York to East Lyme in 2005 when Mark’s job with Pfizer was transferred to Groton. At that point Alberti started a staging and design business, which she said allowed her the flexibility to be at home with Chase. When Chase went to college, Alberti became the finance director for the nonprofit Riverfront Children’s Center in Groton City for about two years, resigning in January. She currently serves as a board member of the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center.
Three top issues as first selectman
“We are a small town and we do not have much land available, so I’d like to tackle redevelopment as a way to add to the tax base of our town,” she said, when asked what her top priority would be in office. “We need to bring more revenues into town if we want to fund our education and bringing in businesses is one way to tackle it.”
The ongoing environmental and development issues in Oswegatchie Hills need a positive solution, she said, noting her second priority.
“It’s been going on for years. It’s a beautiful piece of property. It’s worth preserving. It bothers me that we could have acquired that land several years ago for $1 million and why didn’t we have the foresight back then to look for grants or assistance with conservation organizations to get that land. But the bottom line is there is an owner of that land that deserves to develop it in some way or fashion as long as it’s in line with our town zoning and regulations,” she said. “I know that the First Selectman has been working on that but I haven’t really seen any progress and I’d like to bring that to closure.”
She said her third priority is to take an inventory of town-owned property and how it’s used, since some municipal services could potentially be moved into the newly acquired, 40,000-square-foot Honeywell building that will be used for public safety.
“We need to make sure town-owned property is being utilized to the greatest purpose,” she said. “I think everyone would agree we didn’t need 40,000 square feet, so what else can we move over there to use that space that’s available and how quickly and how smartly can we get new developers to come into existing town properties?”
She added that putting unused municipal buildings back on the tax rolls would benefit the mill rate, which would help senior citizens who are living on a fixed income, she said. “They’re not a very vocal group … and we need to make sure we don’t price them out of this market, that’s just not the right thing to do.”
State government, coastal resiliency, personnel
“We’re the only state that hasn’t fully recovered from the last recession, so I’d use this podium to voice those kinds of concerns at the state level,” Alberti said. She added that would use her business negotiation skills to obtain a fair deal for the town’s Education Cost Sharing grant from the state, which provides an uncertain amount from year to year.
“The amount they propose to reduce every year is frightening. No town can make up for that lack of funding in such a short period of time, so there needs to be a better approach,” she said. “With some of the negotiation skills that I have, I can go a lot further in making sure East Lyme gets a fair shake.”
Alberti said she will put together a panel of experts on climate change and alternative energy to study the issues and advise on what has to be done and “how to advance this agenda.”
“I don’t have a scientific background and I would never base a policy on my beliefs,” she said.
“I know that we might have one electric car fueling station in town, so our whole infrastructure needs to be studied, so if this is the direction we’re going, then maybe we need more stations where people can plug in. We’re not going to save all the world’s problems but there is a lot we can do locally for the greater good.”
As first selectman, Alberti said she’d implement a framework that will ensure town personnel have clearly defined roles and responsibilities as well as performance measurements that they would have to achieve yearly before they were awarded a compensation increase.
“This hasn’t happened for as long as I can tell. When we get our budgets at Board of Finance, we seem to get an across-the-board raise for everybody, 2.5% for non-union employees,” she said.
Data, demographics, finances
Alberti said her decisions on the Board of Finance have been based on data analysis but she also listens when people express concerns at the board’s meetings, she said.
“I’m a data geek and look at facts and figures,” she said. “I look at the data and demographics of the town and try to ascertain how what percentage of the population is on a fixed income, what percentage is families with kids in the school system. Advocacy helps — when people show up to BOF meetings, I listen and take to heart, that factors into the decisions that I make. I don’t take pleasure in cutting anything from the budget but again I”m not working for any one subset of the town.”
Based on the balance of the town’s general fund, hovering at 7 or 8%, which she considered low, Alberti was not optimistic about the town’s financial future in the context of the state, national and world economies.
“If the next recession hit and we were told we were funding our teachers’ retirement liability, we would be wiped out. We need to do a better job of funding the general fund to prepare for a rainy day,” she said.
She said she was open to talking about cost efficiencies such as regionalizing the town’s police force with Old Lyme’s, merging East Lyme’s longtime separate Niantic and Flanders fire departments and considering whether the East Lyme and Salem school districts could share a superintendent or administrative staff.
With Costco opening on November 14, Alberti said she was instrumental in the Board of Finance’s decision to add another police officer who will start in January instead of July, saving half a year’s salary.
“We do need to worry about the fact that we have four exits on 95 that enter into our town,” she said. “We do need to make sure we have the resources in place to be able to afford to hire more police officers, making sure we can pay for these resources without putting unnecessary burden on individual taxpayers.”
Alberti said she was most proud of the work she did as a member of the Board of Finance concerning the $505,000 Care Here Clinic initiative in 2014. She said the board was expected to approve the initiative even though the vendor had presented only to the Board of Selectmen. She said the Board of Finance voted to postpone its vote until the vendor had made a proper presentation and board members had a chance to digest the materials. Ultimately, the initiative was defeated, which Alberti said was “a pivotal moment in the history of our town” because the Board of Finance was no longer viewed “as a rubber stamp for Board of Selectmen decisions.”
Alberti said said she wanted people to know “I’m committed to doing the very best for this town and I believe I have the skills and experience to do that and I would very much want people to know that I work collaboratively with people and that I will not make decisions in a silo.”
“Even if I feel strongly about something, I’m not going to make a decision based solely on what I think we should do — it’s not my town, it’s our town and I think people’s opinions need to be valued and considered,” she said.