Wack: Looking back on 16 years on Westminster council

After 16 years, my days of service to the citizens of Westminster will soon take a new direction. My last City Council meeting is coming up in May, and there’s no way my colleagues will allow me to monopolize the proceedings with reminiscing, so I’d like to share a few thoughts about my time as a Westminster elected official.

We’ve accomplished many things since 2003, and the most important part of that is the “we.” Compared to other municipalities, Westminster voters elect generally high quality people, and it’s been my honor to serve with many of them. Mayor Tom Ferguson, and Council Presidents Damian Halstad, Roy Chiavacci, and Suzanne Albert are ones who immediately come to mind, and there are more.


The highlights are many, and all are the result of the collective leadership and hard work of elected officials and City staff. Our many well-maintained roads; the growing number of outstanding community events like our various Strolls; the exceptionally low crime rate due to the vigilance of our police; our state-of-the-art water treatment facilities; prompt and thorough snow removal; and our scenic tree-lined streets are all efforts I’m proud to have assisted our exemplary City employees with in my small way.

There are a few specific events I played a somewhat larger role in that I’d like to mention. The first is the modernization of the City financial systems, a complex, expensive, and arduous process that started under Mayor Ferguson back in 2006, and continues to this day. There is a saying in business that you can only manage what you measure, and for a medium-sized business like the City of Westminster, we need to measure a lot. It was an eye-opening experience back then to learn just how much the City had outgrown the small town processes that served so well in decades past. With each upgrade, we discover new efficiencies to improve City operations and deliver a higher quality of life to residents.

The second initiative I’m very proud of is the tax increase in 2010. As the Finance Chair, I saw for many years where the City’s finances were headed, with mounting deficits, a growing backlog of repairs deferred year after year, and the risk of a stagnating local economy. The final blow came with the cuts in State funding in 2008 and 2009, slashing Highway User Revenues and Public Safety grants by almost $2 million.

Mayor Kevin Utz, on the recommendation of the Finance Committee, and with the Council’s unanimous support, made the difficult decision to implement a whopping 33% property tax increase, probably a record of some kind. It was absolutely the right decision, for which we all paid a political price. The anti-tax crowd attacked with all manner of hysterical gloom and doom about impoverishing the citizens and destroying the town. Once again, this freeloading magical thinking was proven wrong, and the City is in the best financial and economic health in generations.

The acquisition of the property to create the Wakefield Valley Park was another effort I am proud of and particularly enjoyed. Councilman Tony Chiavacci and I were the principal negotiators for the City, and the crafting of the creative, complex, and innovative deal to swap water for land was some of the best fun to be had as an elected official. The resulting transaction preserves in perpetuity 187 acres of the last undeveloped green space inside City limits. The long-term plans for the park are still evolving, but it will remain an important asset augmenting the quality of life for our community for generations to come.

And of course, there is the Westminster Fiber Network, something about which I’ve written many times before. The $16 million investment we are making, on schedule and under budget, will take many more years to pay off, but I am confident it will benefit our City in many ways, anticipated and unforeseen.

The most important legacy I hope I have contributed to is the culture of collegiality and professionalism that distinguishes Westminster government from many others. For the most part, Westminster elected officials, from widely disparate professional backgrounds and political leanings, collaborate to protect and further the interests of our city. Through careful stewardship and implementing a long term vision we create a healthy, vibrant, and productive community for many generations to come. With luck, this will continue to be how Westminster is known.