An Interview With Chris Spaulding, Part 1

— Contributed photo

We recently sat down at length with First Selectman Chris Spaulding. We thought you would like to know a bit about him, his plans, and what he sees as Weston's opportunities and challenges.

Dr. Spaulding and his wife, Sara, moved to Weston 14 years ago, shortly after the birth of their first child. We always like to know why people chose Weston as a home, so that is where we started.

So, why Weston? And where did you come from?

I was born in Manhattan, and lived half my life in the Boston area. I went to college and graduate school there. We wanted to live closer to the family. I have a younger brother in New York City. My older brother lives in Ridgefield. Sara's brother lives in Darien. My mother moved from New York City to Westport, and Sara's parents are in Hartford.

Weston really stood out in terms of being a small town, but a sophisticated small town. I love the open space. I love the sense of community. I love the fact that it seems more people march in the Memorial Day parade than watch the Memorial Day parade. I love that you can participate and have direct access. As everyone knows, the schools are terrific. You can have a private school experience in a public school format. Weston was like a well-kept secret, and I've always felt lucky to have discovered it.

What is your professional background?

I got my doctorate in psychology from Harvard University. I specialized in a narrow field, experimental psychopathology. I was basically trained to be an academic research psychologist. I specialized in anxiety disorders, specifically how information processing is affected by your level of anxiety and your perception of threatening stimulus.

I eventually became an executive leadership coach specializing in positive psychology, training people to start noticing the good stuff around. When you have a positive attitude you find more varied and creative solutions to problems than if you narrow the scope of information you receive.

I've applied some of that to the way I work in town. I don't see things as problems, but as opportunities for unique solutions.

You were kept rather busy this winter, and it seems like the job of First Selectman can be a bit demanding year-round. Have you been able to maintain your practice?

I have a handful of clients that I've maintained because I owe an allegiance to them. But I stopped taking new clients in the middle of last year, when I filled in when the First Selectman was out. I realized then that if I did this I wouldn't be able to do justice to both the town and the clients.

Your wife, Sara Spaulding, serves on the Board of Education. Does that present any challenges?

She is also very dedicated to the town. The big challenge is time. We tag team with the kids. The nice thing is we live very close to the schools and Town Hall. So I can walk my kids home from school and come right back for meetings.

We're very attentive to the fact that we have different roles and responsibilities. The first thing we did before I ran for office was go to the Board of Ethics to make sure there wouldn't be any conflict with her serving on the Board of Education. The answer was no, because there is no monetary benefit, which is the hallmark of conflict. We've also made sure to keep our respective official responsibilities at an arms length distance.

We don't talk about stuff that shouldn't be disclosed at home or anywhere else. I've also disagreed with her from time to time, even publicly, on some issues. The Town and the schools are changing how we share services and budget for them, and both have different interests. These are things we just don't discuss.

Sara is an attorney, and I'm a psychologist, so we both understand that confidentiality is of paramount importance. We both take it extremely seriously.

You served a term on the Board before becoming First Selectman. Before that, what other activities were you involved in?

I served on the Conservation Commission for five years, on Children and Youth Services for several years, and for a short time was on the Strategic Planning committee. We've replaced that with a new Marketing Communications Advisory committee. Rather than having responsibility for creating a grand strategic plan, its role is tactical. We want them to advise the Board of Selectmen on how to communicate, and how to brand Weston and develop its message.

What do you expect the results will be?

One of the things citizens are asking for is better communication with the government and better communication about the strengths of Weston to the overall community. We don't want people flooding in — we only have something like 250 buildable lots left in town — but we don't have to draw in too many people. We do have to help people want to stay in town. We have to find out what amenities they want after they don't have kids in schools anymore.

We have a lot of resources dedicated to school kids. We have a lot of resources dedicated to the Senior Center. We have the library, we have Lachat, we have the Weston Historical Society. But we can do more. To use a marketing term, we need to work on how to make Weston "sticky."

On the election trail, I spent a lot of time talking to people about why they chose to stay here after the kids were gone, and an extra amount of time talking to people who moved here without kids. I wanted to know why they moved here.

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