MERIDEN — The city hired Joe Feest, a former Republican city councilor and current chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, as its new director of economic development.
Feest, a lifelong city resident, is a senior salesperson for NFP Insurance and was previously president of his family’s local insurance company, Ferrigno Insurance Agency, for about 20 years. He took over the business when his father died in 1998 and sold the business to NFP a few years back. Feest, 48, served on the City Council from 1997 to 2005 and has been on the ZBA since 2006.
City Manager Tim Coon said Feest’s business experience and knowledge of the city made him stand out among four finalists interviewed by a selection panel that included Coon, Council Majority Leader David Lowell, Council Minority Leader Dan Brunet, and Mayor Kevin Scarpati.
“The four candidates all brought significant strengths to the table but the panel eventually felt that Joe’s knowledge and experience with the City, his experience with a business in the City, and his personality was the best fit for what the City needed for this crucial position,” Coon wrote in an email.
Feest, who plans to step down from the ZBA, will start May 20 and earn a starting salary of $107,000. He will replace former director Juliet Burdelski, who resigned in February. Burdelski was hired as grants administrator in 2006 and promoted to the director position in 2013.
Feest said he pursued the director position because he cares deeply about Meriden and wants to see it succeed.
“For 20 years, I’ve been working either as a city councilor or (on the ZBA) to help improve economic development and, truthfully, I love this town and any way I can help to improve things I will try to do,” Feest said in an interview Tuesday.
Feest previously applied for the position when Burdelski resigned in November 2017 before later rescinding her resignation.
“When she put in her resignation this time, I said to myself, ‘This is a perfect opportunity,’ ” Feest said.
Feest’s focus will be on making City Hall more “business friendly” and growing the tax base. As a former local business owner and someone with experience in city government, Feest said he “understands both sides of the coin” when it comes to attracting businesses.
The selection panel chose Feest over other candidates with more experience in municipal economic development because it ultimately felt Feest’s familiarity with and enthusiasm about Meriden outweighed his lack of experience.
“There’s no question there was some concern about (Feest) not having any experience in the field,” said Brunet, a Republican, “but his overall grade came out very well, and some of his other attributes made us feel he could overcome the inexperience.”
Following Burdelski’s resignation, city officials expressed a sense of urgency in filling the vacancy. Coon said a “large number of excellent candidates” applied for the position. Nine candidates were initially selected for a first round of interviews, with four candidates moving onto a second and final round.