Hines Sight / Dear Paul Hiller: Don't be a stranger
Published 10:21 am, Friday, September 14, 2012
In 1986, when I first heard the name Paul Hiller, and the way people in town talked about him, he seemed larger than life -- at least in my mind he did.
When I finally got to meet him (the circumstances of which I have forgotten) he was this tall, deep-voiced, but soft-spoken teddy-bear-kind of guy. And he was incredibly knowledgeable -- about finances, politics and the history of our town. He also has a dry sense of humor, which always made conversations with him fun.
Paul was on the Board of Finance at the time, having already spent a few years on the Representative Town Meeting. Finance was -- and is -- his forte.
He is a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania. That education and his background in the private sector -- in transportation, real estate and banking -- served him (and us) well while he was a town official. The majority of his political life in Fairfield was as a member of the Board of Finance, to which he was first elected in 1979. He served on the board until 1995 including two terms as chairman and two as vice chairman. He also had served as the town treasurer.
I remember he always conducted the business of the Board of Finance with evenhandedness and dignity. I don't ever remember in the more than 25 years that I've known him that Paul lost his temper. He treats everyone -- town official and resident -- with nothing but respect.
The archives of the Fairfield Citizen are filled with articles and photos about Paul's exemplary service to our town. In 1999, he was named by then-First Selectman Ken Flatto to be chief fiscal officer, succeeding John Leahy. What made the appointment interesting is that Flatto is a Democrat and Paul a Republican.
When Flatto made the announcement, he said two things that ring so true about Paul -- that he picked the right man for the job and that "one of Paul's strengths is an ability to present things coherently and cogently." I can vouch for that. On a number of occasions when I was editor of this newspaper, he explained a financial situation to me or my reporters in language we and the public could understand.
Tomorrow, Paul leaves his job as chief fiscal officer, a position he has held for 13 years. He'll now work a minimum of two days a week in the newly created position "manager of financial services" and conclude his service to the town on June 30.
While Paul won't discuss publicly the circumstances surrounding his departure -- termed a resignation -- just what occurred this summer to prompt a "mutual agreement" between him and First Selectman Mike Tetreau remains a mystery. Suffice to say, I -- and many people to whom I've spoken -- believe what transpired has been a disgrace. I won't get into the whole unpleasant affair, or the details of the separation agreement signed by both Paul and Tetreau. But if Tetreau wanted to make a personnel change in the Finance Department -- as is his right to do -- he could have handled it so much better and without putting a hardworking official and decent man into such poor light.
Instead, let's talk about how Paul, over 31 years, kept as his focus maintaining Fairfield's solid financial footing, including keeping the town's triple A bond rating intact and always looking for ways to save money. As the clerk of the Board of Finance since 1999, he ensured that it took care of business smoothly and answered all questions before members made a decision. In fact, just last week after two hours of discussion at a Board of Finance meeting over his separation agreement -- which could not have been easy for him to endure -- he was the consummate professional.
Paul twice sought the Republican nomination for first selectman. He entered the fray in 1993 and shared the spotlight with three other Republicans, losing to Paul Audley in the GOP caucus. In 1997, he challenged and lost to fellow Republican Jack McCarthy.
After those two disappointing losses, Paul did what came naturally to him -- he got back to work, not harboring any ill will toward the victors, but instead campaigned to get them elected. Audley won in 1993 and McCarthy lost in 1997.
But throughout it all, Paul Hiller, who took on the challenges and used his expertise in finance and politics, relied on one belief. He never lost sight of what was best for the community in which he was born and raised.
Paul, you served your town well and proudly. Your community thanks you for looking after it. And don't be a stranger. I, for one, think we still need you.