Published January 14. 2013 4:00AM Updated January 15. 2013 4:03PM
The wizard cap in her office is a fitting symbol for Linda Krause, who's worked her magic in decades of public service to help transform the way that government entities face land use, transportation, and environmental planning issues.
Since 1987, Linda had been working at the Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency (CRERPA), a nine-town regional planning organization based in Old Saybrook, first as a planner and, in 1995, as executive director. She continued in that role until she started her new post on Oct. 1, 2012 as executive director of the newly formed 17-town Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments (LCRVCOG). Joining Linda at the LCRVCOG Essex offices are most of the staff members of the two smaller agencies that merged to make the agency, the former Mid-State Regional Planning Agency and CRERPA.
As executive director of the new merged staff and agencies, it fell to her to handle the details of the organizations' merger. This included finding new office space for the staff; merging the two accounting and financing systems; working to standardize personnel manuals, benefits and salary packages; and melding the regional planning agencies two different cultures and views of planning.
Fortunately, her background has prepared her well for these disparate duties. Elected to the Groton Representative Town Meeting after moving to that town as a Navy wife, she was soon appointed to the Town Council. In one of her terms, she served as Groton mayor. But it was her stint on the Groton Inland Wetlands Commission, serving for years as chair, that spurred her lifelong interest in land use planning issues.
"I asked myself what I wanted to do and was good at. I realized that I was good at asking questions. Asking the right question is a big part of finding the right solution," says Linda. "I also found that you might as well be an officer in an organization that you're involved in because you have to pay attention. You get more involved by learning and participating."
After earning a graduate planning degree, Linda began building her professional planning career. Her first job in 1976 and '77 was in coastal management with the state Department of Environmental Protection. After a year there, she moved on to take a post closer to home as the zoning enforcement officer (ZEO), adding a second responsibility by later serving as assistant sanitarian for the Town of Ledyard.
For 10 years, she worked as Ledyard ZEO. During this period, the federal government recognized the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, an action that suddenly presented Ledyard with new growth and land use challenges. As a result, Linda was also tapped to act as an assistant to the first selectman of Ledyard on projects and planning issues.
It was a busy time for all involved.
"If you're a people watcher, then you like going to meetings," says Linda.
For now, Linda's time is primarily spent working out the details for the two planning agencies' merger. By February, the COG Board of chief elected officials is expected to set the new COG's dues for member towns.
While this proceeds, Linda and her staff are also working to combine the programs, grants, and work effort of the two former agencies. Most of the work to be done is fixed already-about 90 percent of the program work derives from federal and state grants for transportation planning and homeland security.
But other planning efforts are underway with the help of other grants. These include a new $150,000 grant just awarded to LCRVCOG to develop a regional plan for the 17-town area. Work also continues under a multi-year $750,000-plus Regional Planning Incentive Program grant to develop standardized electronic Geographic Information System (GIS) maps for the COG region.
One new data point for these GIS maps is real-time storm surge and flood data from Superstorm Sandy. In Old Lyme, for example, storm surge for this storm event unexpectedly tracked the FEMA map lines for a serious Category 4 hurricane.
Looking back on the decades of service during which she has attended hundreds of public meetings, she reflected on what has changed over the years
"It's much more nasty now than it used to be in public government settings. There's always been disagreements about issues. Now, though, if you disagree, it's personal. There's a lack of goodwill and civility," laments Linda.
To Linda, the quality one may need most to succeed in planning and public service today is patience. Many initiatives take a long time to develop before they bear fruit. For Linda, the hard and painstaking work to build consensus, though, is worth it.