The Connecticut Council of Small Towns this week named its public policy director, Betsy Gara, to succeed retiring executive director Bart Russell.

Gara has extensive experience in organizational management, legislative and regulatory policy analysis and advocacy, media relations and membership services. A lawyer by training, Betsy is a resident of the COST-member town of Durham.

Barbara Henry, first selectman of Roxbury and president of COST said, “We are delighted to have Betsy at the helm and are confident she will continue COST’s great tradition of grassroots advocacy on behalf of Connecticut’s smaller towns and cities.”

“Betsy has served with distinction for more than six years,” said Russell, who retired last week after 18 years as director. “She has been able to build strong relationships with decision-makers in Hartford, and is highly regarded by legislative leaders, rank and file members of the Connecticut General Assembly and professional staff throughout state government.”

COST, which was founded in 1975 to provide small towns and cities a voice at the state Capitol, represents 115 suburban and rural municipalities under 30,000 in population.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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