This is file #37. This is Jean McMillen interviewing Curtis Rand, the present first Selectman of Salisbury. I am interviewing him at the Town Hall, 27 Main Street, Salisbury, Ct. The date is January 8, 2013. Mr. Curtis is going to talk about his responsibilities as First Selectman, forestry, and anything else he chooses to.(Curtis Rand was a selectman from 1990 to 2014.)
JM:What is your full name?
CR:My full name is Curtis Rand.
JM:Where were you born?
CR:I was born in Sharon, Ct.
JM:Your birth date, please?
CR:July 10, 1951.
JM:Your parents full names?
CR:John A. Rand, Charlotte Young Rand. She ended up Young Salisbury.
JM:Do you have siblings?
CR:I do. Ellen Rand and Rosina Rand.
JM:Your educational background?
CR:I went to high school at Pomfret School. I went to forestry school at Paul Smith’s College. I got a bachelor’s at Goddard College in Vermont, and I got a Master’s degree in Forestry at Yale School of Forestry.
JM:I am going to ask you about your forestry background, and I also want you to tell me about the trees that were dedicated to George Keifer at the Grove.
CR:Oh very good. My forestry background? I was a practicing forester and have been licensed in forestry for about 30 years in Connecticut and Massachusetts. I have done work in Vermont and New York state as well, and a bit in Maine.
JM:Now when you say forestry work, do you manage wood lots?
CR:I manage woodlots and forest land for people who own those.
JM:Large plots of land, small plots of land?
CR:Anywhere from about 50 acres to 4-5 thousand acres, fairly large.
JM:I understand you were very successful in growing some acorns into….
CR:Oh well, we’ll see how successful they are, but we did. There is an unusual grove of trees at our Grove, which is probably why it is called “The Grove”. They have been well cared for many years by George Kiefer who is also a forester and our Tree Warden. We thought it would be a good idea to do 2 things in recognition of George. 1. To pick up acorns (from the Grove trees) and sprout them and grow them which we did. We would plant those genetic types of trees which are a very unusual beautiful race of White Oaks. 2. Also to recognize George by dedicating that grove of trees to him.
JM:Which is perfectly appropriate.
CR:I think so. Those trees are 375 years old; I said to George, “These seedlings are about 2 inches tall.” He said, “Well, we were pretty small once, too.”
JM:That is typical George!
CR:That was fun, and we planted 15 little ones last year with the Boy Scouts. George came down and talked about it.
JM;so there have been 2 plantings?
CR:No, just the one. We didn’t get many acorns this fall so we are hoping that next year and I think I have a few more seedlings, but so far so good. We have 15 new trees growing down there.
JM:It is the oldest stand of White Oak in the state, isn’t it?
CR:I believe that is true. They are really magnificent in their stature.
JM:I used to teach botany, and George would come in and he taught the children various ways of identifying trees.
JM:The White Oaks have rounded lobes, bullets, and the Red Oaks have sharp points, arrows.
CR:That’s exactly right. We have been losing those trees a little bit, but the good news is that 2 in particular that have blown over in the last couple of years; one of them ended up down at Mystic as a part of a large ship.
CR:More of a keel, but the good news is that it is going to stay being used and intact. The other one they just now today are bringing back from a big planning mill up in Hardwick, Mass. David Bowen has been hired to make a table for the academy Building. So we took this log up to Ashley Falls via the town Highway crew, got it milled out, had to drive it to central Mass. to be kiln dried. They are bringing it back right now. He’s going to build a table that is 16 feet long in one piece. Ed Herrington has offered the use and the labor of this most skilled fork lift operator. We are going to put that piece of one table
top through a window upstairs in the Academy Building. He will build the base of the table and then we are going to install the top. So he can build a long table top, 16 feet, 2 boards.
JM:If that isn’t a wonderful recycling project.
CR:I think so. So that has been a good thing about those oaks when they did die.
JM:No, they didn’t; they are just going into a different phase. Anything else you want to tell me about the forestry?
CR: No, it’s been a wonderful career; I love my selectman’s job but I think that being able to be outside and having that exposure and being part of that whole regional industry of renewable wood products has been a great thing for me. It has been my life blood really. It has put me in touch with a lot of interesting people, many of whom have helped the town in one way of another. Certainly the lumber industry is still pretty strong. That is a good thing for many of our properties here. I think it is pretty evident that we have a strong conservation ethic. I think some of that goes because of how we have managed our resources.
JM:Do you work with the Salisbury Land Trust?
CR:I have sure, often. They have done a great job on conservation, restoration; they are doing a lot of restoration, ecology which is a wonderful thing. We have some pretty advanced thinkers in the environmental field here which is really good; they are doing work for the bog turtle, and endangered species, restoration of habitat. There is a fairly extensive watershed study going on. So those kinds of things are very fun to be involved with.
JM:They are also planning ahead which it always important.
CR:Planning ahead and preserving what is good; don’t throw out the pieces.
JM:You don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
CR:Right I am not practicing forestry nearly as much as I did.
JM:I would imagine the selectman’s job takes up quite a bit of your time.
CR:Yes, it takes quite a bit of time.
JM:Let’s move on to that part. You said there were not a whole lot of requirements for first Selectman job, but what are the requirements?
CR:Maybe I misspoke there a little bit. It certainly can have intensity at times. You have better be ready. I think it is a hard job to pin down; it has so layers. It is like peeling away an onion. Some weeks and some months or even some years one layer is much more important that the other ones, then they shift. An underlying thread to it all is the budgetary part of it. The fact that you have been honored to
take care of people’s hard earned tax dollars. That is always humbling for me. So the budgets have to be responsible and represent the best interests of the town. We try to do no harm to people financially. Yet you have to balance that with keeping the full array of services that people like; doing things like keeping the lake clean and keeping the highways plowed, sanded, and various things like that. There is another underlying theme of all this which is human relations; the relationships among the employees and keeping all of that moving along so that they are happy in their jobs and they do a good job. They do do a good job.
JM:Do they get told they do a good job?
JM:Good, that is important.
CR:They do. They are appreciated. I never get serious complaints about any employees, either individuals town employees or up shoots of a group; the Recreations Department, the Assessor’s Department, the Highway Department. We always get good comments; I think they work really hard and we have a wonderful staff here.
JM:How many on your staff?
CR:Well, there are probably 14 or 15 in the Town Hall; there are 9 on the Highway Department, and Transfer Station 4, so when one adds to all up, it is about 30.
JM:That is a good amount of people.
CR:It sure is.
JM:In order to get the First Selectman or any selectman, you have to actually run a campaign and be elected?
CR:You run a campaign; that is correct.
JM:The term of office for selectman is?
JM:And you have been how many years in office.
CR:I am finishing up my third term; I am in the second year of my third term, actually fourth term.
JM:I am not going to ask you about responsibilities; you’re responsible for everything. You had said 7 years, so it would be your fourth term. I am going to ask you again: what are some of the local and state groups that you foster relationships with?
CR:I think that is a really important part of the job. Another theme of it is keeping good relationships throughout the various entities that we deal with: for instance the private schools, the Department of Economic Developmentin Hartford, the Department of Environmental Protection, the State Police, the legislators and senators, both national and state. Those relationships have to be cultivated, established and maintained. There has to be trust on both sides. If a state agency is giving you a grant for sidewalks or a grove building or whatever, they have to know that we are holding up our end of the bargain, that we built the building properly, that we do what we are required to do in terms of paperwork, that the budgets are responsible, and that we employ people who are reliable and meet the state requirements. That is all part of the relationship building. I will say and mention that I could not do any of this without Joe Cleaveland who balanced the budget on the Grove building. After 2 years with a full day and one half long, multi person audit by the state here $750.000, there was a 6 cent discrepancy which is pretty amazing given that there were 14 different contractors working on that building, and all the potential for errors.
JM:He is a pretty amazing fellow.
CR:Yes, he is. Those relationships are important. Another very important one is with the town attorney. They have to have faith you that you will be straight with them, honest, do what they ask and don’t put them in harm’s way because they have a big reputation. The private schools obviously we have a lot of town-gown issues that we always discuss things like the education of their faculty kids comes up sometimes, plus and minus I hear from residents, but I would say that those relationships are very important and very beneficial to the town. Both ways. One only has to recall that Malcolm McKenzie when he first came to town, he called me up and said ,”I’ve been invited to a lot of functions here this summer,(this was even before he even began,) and the one I really want to go to is to meet the Fire Department and the Ambulance.” He did that. He came to a meeting on a summer hot night in August; he got up and said a few things upstairs in the old firehouse about how much he admired the work that they did. I think that was very important. Then he put his money where his mouth was and they made that Leadership pledge for the new firehouse of $400,000. That is no joke; that was the real deal.
JM:Rusty Chandler was on that committee.
CR:Rusty chandler led that effort and as I reported last night, the other night at the selectman’s meeting, we had a debt for that project and the transfer station of $4.8 million in 2007 and it is now $2.76 million.
JM:Wonderful! That is impressive.
CR:It is; it is 2 million dollars that has come down off our debt in four short years. No just Rusty, but everyone on that committee and more importantly everyone who has given and is still giving. You can’t do that without having good relationships.
JM:You can’t. As I was saying to Stacey Dodge this morning when I was interviewing her,” It is a well-oiled machine.” The teamwork shows. You can’t accomplish as much as you have accomplished with the town and she has accomplished with the Grove if you don’t have a good working relationship.
JM:Do you actually write grants, or do you have a grant writer?
CR:No we do most of them ourselves. Emily (Egan, his secretary) has been a tremendous help on that. Joe has. We apply for most of them. In the case of a recent one for the library, we applied on behalf of the library Eileen Fox did a beautiful job writing that. You know there is an art to that that I didn’t know anything about. You are competing with a lot of different interests out there.
JM:Every aspect has shortcuts, terminology and craft. You might not be as good at doing bulletin boards as I am because I have done bulletin boards and you haven’t, but it is something that specific people learn and they do it well.
CR:Right so generally we’ve written them. We’ve been very successful with grants; we’ve done me think I added it up a couple of years ago and we were at almost 8 or 9 million dollars that we have gotten. That includes the three bridges, but those were pretty significant. The fact that we got them done is quite good I think. It cost us not a penny.
JM:That’s even better.
CR:That was 4 million dollars’ worth of grants. We have another big federal grant on the Amesville Bridge that we are working on now. Lots of history down there and we are going to try to be sensitive to that.
JM:Oh yes, I am sure you will be.
CR:We want that bridge repainted blue, whatever form it is in. It’s got to be the blue bridge!
JM:How would you define your management style?
CR:My managements style is… you probably ought to ask all the employees.
JM;I’ll get them all, one way or another.
CR:I am probably pretty good at delegating and not trying to micromanage. We have very skilled capable people running the various departments, assessing, tax collecting, recreation, town clerk, building department, zoning, and treasurer. The First Selectman has more influence over some of those than others, and obviously could butt into many of those. I choose not to because I think that every department head is capable. They do a good job. I think it is my job to keep them working and keep them in communication with me so that I am aware of what’s going on, but not trying to steer them in any particular way.
JM:How are decisions made for the town? Do you make all the decisions?
CR:No, I think the significant ones are the 3 selectmen who function together as an equal group. We all 3 have an equal vote; so big decisions are made that way. The First Selectman has some leeway as a CEO to maintain things on a daily or weekly basis. That’s about how we do it; if we have to buy a new paving machine which we did last year, we’ll do that as a group. If I have to buy a new fender for a truck, I’ll do that on my own with the Highway Department. I won’t go to the other selectmen because in a structural sense our budgets are 10 or 12 pages long with many line items. Each of those line items is approved as a group, so as long as we don’t exceed those in a given budget year that is what the voters have approved.
JM:As long as you are within that line item, you are OK.
CR:if you stay within those line items, you really don’t have to go back to keep bringing this up, even if it is $100,000 piece of equipment. If that was in your capital line item, it’s been approved. Now obviously there are some things that are more sensitive and not so mechanical. If somebody wanted to use the Town Hall for a pro-gun or an anti-gun or a show a movie that was distasteful or tasteful, some of those things are things that you should talk about as a group. Those are just weird examples.
JM:It is nice to have the hypothetical example.
CR:I try as the First Selectman to steer away from things like that as they are sort of unnecessary.
JM:They are not helping the situation.
CR:They are not part of the job. There are a number of people who walk in with, I am not going to call them snake oil salesmen but pretty close to it, you can get a sense of it. We don’t need this; we are very fine thank you. So my management style is somewhat hands on, but…
JM:A lot of hands off and let them do it.
CR:I think so.
JM:How do you handle payroll?
CR:Payroll all checks are signed by myself and Shirley Hurley, the Treasurer once a week.
JM:What is the difference between Shirley Hurley, as Treasurer and Joe Cleaveland as Comptroller?
CR:Shirley is the official overseer as Treasurer; Joe is really the Comptroller. He keeps the books and he is way more than what his job title is. He is very much part of the policy about the economics about how the town functions. Shirley just oversees the weekly checks.
JM:They are paid weekly?
CR:Weekly, and when we do payroll weekly, we also do all our bills once a week.8.
JM:The town crew and the staff in the town hall get paid weekly. Is the school separate?
CR:That is separate.
JM;is there anything that I’ve overlooked about your job or running the town?
CR:No, I think that there is another part of it which is that you have to have some empathy, we are in a small town; we are not in a bigger town. We know many people; we know their family, we go back with their families. I think that it is really important to have some sensitivity towards some of the trouble that people have. We are not all perfect; so people need help from time to time. It is important that they can consider that the town might be able to help them a little bit, even if it is just with advice or something of that nature. I might suggest talking to so and so. That’s important; the Resident Troop Program is a very important part of the town. That again is his ability to use judgment when to apply a little more pressure and when to back off. That is really important; those are the attributes that we would look for in a resident trooper because we are a small town. I am sure that is a lot we have left out.
JM:Well, there is always that second opportunity. Thank you so very much for your time.
CR:Absolutely, a pleasure.