The town of Winchester is tucked away in the northwest corner of Connecticut in picturesque Litchfield County. With about 11,000 residents calling it home, over 7,000 live in the more commonly known borough of Winsted, with its tree-lined Main Street, restaurants, and antique stores.
Life might seem simple in Winchester, but running a town like this on a day-to-day basis is not. That job falls to recently-hired town manager Joshua Kelly ’19 MPA, who also earned a graduate certificate in public financial management from UConn.
He was just named to the position in April, and previously served as the town administrator for Bolton, not far from UConn Storrs.
“A town manager is the CEO, and so there are a lot of high-level tasks that I have been assigned to,” says Kelly. “Economic development is one of those areas that full under the town manager’s purview, but on a day-to-day basis, I oversee and manage about a dozen different departments and directors, all of them reporting to me.”
Kelly works in tandem with Winchester’s publicly-elected Board of Selectmen and Mayor Althea Candy Perez.
“My job is to be apolitical as possible,” says Kelly. “I withdraw myself from political conversation and allow the selectmen to do their jobs. They hash things out on a policy basis, and then I take their final decision and make it a reality.”
A challenge of Kelly’s job is that he is dealing with a town that is both urban and rural in composition.
“I really enjoy having the opportunity to work with both of them,” says Kelly. “It is everything from cosmetic and visual enhancement in our downtown area to the human health side of life. Towns have played a large role in helping curb the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of decision had to be made with regards to how businesses could reopen in a safe manner. We are enforcing the governor’s guidelines on the town level.”
There are also issues that Kelly has to address which might be thought of only as “big city” problems.
“We have issues in Connecticut with drug use right now, especially opioids, and that has impacted our town too,” says Kelly. “We have hired a social services director, which helps, because while we are also thinking on a large picture like business development, we have to work on the welfare of our residents.”
Although he started his undergraduate career as an opera major, Kelly ran for elected office in Waterford, where he grew up, and served on the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Representative Town Meeting while still a college student.
“That was an invigorating experience and I knew I wanted to make a career out of it,” says Kelly. “I knew that I wanted to be a town manager and would need a master’s in public administration.”
Kelly enrolled in UConn’s nationally-renowned MPA program and enjoyed the relationships he built with his fellow students and getting to know the Hartford area in a detailed manner. Each second-year MPA student participates in an internship, and Kelly did his in Windsor, with Town Manager Peter Souza.
“It really helped to see a manager and town in action,” says Kelly. “A lot of our different classes focused specifically on the towns and cities around us. I learned a lot, and would not be where I am today without the MPA program, as well as my Graduate Certificate in Public Financial Management.”
At age 26, Kelly brings a youthful perspective to the job in Winchester.
“One of the challenges of working in any new town is learning the players,” says Kelly. “I was born in Bridgeport, grew up in Waterford, and worked the last two years in Bolton, so this is the one corner of the state I had not forayed into.
“I think you always hear comments about when a young person takes a job that is above entry level, but I think it works to my advantage. I am fresh out of one of the most cutting-edge public policy programs in the country at UConn, and have had the opportunity to learn a lot, work with, and learn from some amazing minds there. I definitely bring a different perspective, and have the opportunity to bring a fresh set of ideas and eyes to Winchester.”