A firm at the center of New Haven’s policy and planning for 42 years

Holt, Wexler & Farnam, LLP

Holt, Wexler & Farnam, LLP was for four decades a go-to consulting firm in New Haven and Connecticut for a wide range of services in the areas of community and economic development, community planning, human services, strategic planning, program evaluation, and feasibility assessment.

Philetus H. Holt and Harry Wexler founded the firm in 1968 as Cogen, Holt & Associates with partner Joel Cogen. One of their main clients was the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM). When Joel Cogen left to begin his nearly 40 year term heading CCM in the early 1970’s, the firm was renamed Holt, Wexler & Associates.

Over the years, Holt and Wexler added local businessman and community leader John Crawford to the name (Holt, Wexlet & Crawford) when he was a partner and then Kathy Merchant (Holt, Wexler & Merchant) when she became a partner in the late 1980’s.

Harry Wexler and Phil Holt, circa 1975

Jim Farnam left his job as Director of Downtown and Harbor Development for the City of New Haven in 1989 to join the firm which briefly became Holt, Wexler, Merchant & Farnam before Kathy Merchant left in 1996 when it settled on the name it used until its end in 2010 — Holt, Wexler & Farnam, LLP.

Mark Nickel became a partner in the firm in about 1998 and then Managing Partner from about 2003 until the firm split up in October 2010. At that time, Jim Farnam formed Farnam Associates, LLC and partners Mark Nickel and Matt Wexler formed Cross Sector Consulting.

Many people passed through Holt/Wexler over the years — a sampling are listed below.

Holt/Wexler became a “nodal point” in the New Haven community with deep relationships to the nonprofit community, City government, the business community, the philanthropic community, and Yale University. The firm was regularly tapped to facilitate community planning process both large and small. A sampling included:

Phil Holt

Throughout its time, HWF partners served many local and regional non-profits and also worked in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. They conducted strategic planing processes for dozens of organizations in New Haven and for the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) offices in Boston and Philadelphia. They also worked for the national office of LISC.

Early in his career, Harry also worked for the Ford Foundation Voter Rights Project in the Southwestern United States. He was also a long time consultant to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

In 1996, the firm was hired by the Pew Charitable Trust (PCT) to conduct a study of Philadelphia working class neighborhoods to assess the feasibility of an initiative to support local community forces in those neighborhoods to address their most pressing issues through nonprofit and collaborative acti0n. The firm conducted case staudies of four neighborhoods, including Crol Gardens, Olney-Oak Lane, and Kensington and advised the Trust on possible strategies for accomplishing their goals. Based on that study, PCT launched the Neighborhood Preservation Initiative based on this study and then hired Kathy Merchant to run it from New Haven.

Firm Names

Cogen, Holt

Holt, Wexler and Associates

Holt, Wexler & Crawford

Holt, Wexler, Crawford, & Merchant

Holt, Wexler & Merchant (1986 - 1992)

Holt, Wexler, Merchant & Farnam (1992-1994)

Holt, Wexler & Farnam (1994-2010)


Many good people passed through Holt/Wexler over the 42 years of its existence. Here are a few. Please send any additiona names or corrections to jf@farnamllc.com.


John Crawford

Joel Cogen (1968 to the formation of CCM), founder and later long-serving President of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities

John Crawford, (Partner, left 1989)local businessman and community leader, former President of the Regional Water Authority of South Central Connecticut

James Farnam (Partner 1989-2010), former Director fo Downtown and Harbor Development for the City of New Haven

Kathryn Feidelson. Katie left with Joel Cogen to become a senior executive at CCM.

Philetus Holt (Partner 1968-2010), founder and lead counsel to the Stamford Redevelopment Agency and the New Haven Office of Downtown Development and Development Administration for many years (see above). Phil died in 2010 at age 74 (obituary)

Kathy Merchant (Partner, 1986-1994). Former lead planner for the United Way of Greater New Haven, Kathy went on to lead the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Neighborhood Preservation Initiative and then led the Greater Cincinnati Foundation for 18 years.

In May 2015, she stepped down from GCF and returned to consulting in the areas of strategic philanthropy, collective impact, and impact investing. Kathy has achieved several recognized certifications in wine, including the Level 4 Diploma from the international Wine & Spirits Educational Trust. Now an author, she has written three nonfiction books and one children’s book (published 2000 - 2024) which are available on Amazon.com). Kathy received a BA from Indiana University and an MSW from University of Connecticut.

Kathy Merchant

Mark Nickel (1996-2010), went on to form Cross Sector Consulting and continue the work he had started at HWF.

Hugh Price, subsequently served as President of the National Urban League until 2003 (complete bio here ). After graduating from Yale Law School in 1966, Hugh Price began his professional career as a legal services lawyer representing low-income clients in New Haven, CT. During the turbulent late 1960s, he served as the first executive director of the Black Coalition of New Haven.

Steve Wareck, former President of the New Haven Board of Aldermen and candidate for Congress in 1988. He died in 1992 at age 61 (obituary).

Harry Wexler (Partner 1968-2010), founder. See above. Harry was also the longtime President of the Board of the New HAven Legal Assistance Association and an active lay leader in Congregation Mishkan Isreal. Harry died in 2018 at age 82 (obituary)

Matthew Wexler (Partner 2008-2012), national expert on New Market Tax Credits, who currently works as the MAnaging Director, Social Infrastructure at Grow America (formerly the National Development Council)


Simon Bertrang came as an intern in 1994 as he was graduating from Yale to help on a grant, stayed all night, and then stuck around for a year to help on many projects. Jim cites him to this day as one of the best Associates the firm ever had— a person who could “fill in the blanks.” Give him an assignment and he would apply his abundant intelligence and savvy to figure out exactly how to do it and bring back the most thorough piece of work. He was like Radar O’Reilly (in Mash) in his ability to anticipate the next thing needed. He is currently the Executive Director of SF New Deal, contributing to the revival of San Francisco.

Health Mullins Crislip. Heather went on to serve as the Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant to the Chancellor of the University of Hawaii for 5 years. She then headed Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia Inc. in Richmond, VA, from 2012-2021. Since 2021, she has headed the Richmond Forum.

Laura Downs. Laura went on to form the regional consulting firm Morrison Downs which has worked for numerous governmental, nonprofit, and philanthropic organizations.

Lisa Goodman DesFosses. Lisa went on to work for Achievement First and is currently a consultant on real estate and finance to charter schools and charter school management organizations at i+c Consulting.

Jennifer Heath. Jennifer went on to work as a Vice President at the United Way of Greater New Haven and has been serving as its President since 2016.

Jennifer Jainer. For years Jennifer managed much of HWF’s extensive work with the CT Department of Public Health in support of several disease-focused planing efforts (Asthma, Heart and Hypertension, Chronic Diseases, HIV-AIDS).

John Johnson. John came to us rigth out of Yale and left to attend Columbia Law School. He returns to New Haven as president of the board of his secret society (which shall remain nameless). He has gone on to an impressive career as an attorney. See his bio in National Black Lawyers Hall of Fame Top 100.

Catherine Kennedy. Catherine worked at HWF before leaving to Found Leeway, Inc. Leeday Executive Director Jay Katz writes on the Leeway web site: “Welcome to Leeway, founded in 1995 by the late great Catherine Kennedy. Catherine, a graduate of the School of Management at Yale University, had a vision and dreamed of caring for the individuals and families suffering from the HIV/AIDS virus in the New Haven Community.”

From the Yale Alumni Magazine (Mar/Apr 2019): Leeway was started in 1995 by Catherine Kennedy ’86MPPM, the late wife of Yale professor Paul Kennedy. Though she died three years later, Kennedy’s presence is still felt everywhere. In 2018, Leeway announced the opening of the new Catherine Kennedy Memorial Garden. Heather Aaron ’85MPH—former executive director and now an adviser to the board—references Kennedy in a speech she makes to the residents. .... Later, when Aaron and I sit down for a conversation, she mentions that Kennedy worked for 13 years on Leeway before it became a brick-and-mortar foundation.

Emily Lehrman. Emily currently teaches at the Mercy Center in Bridgeport.

Eric Levine. Eric came to the firm after graduating from Yale and brought a drive, zeal and intelligence to the work. He lives in London where he is involved with various international nonprofit and youth development efforts.

One of his side projects at HWF was working with Downtown Cooperative Television to produce a youth get-out-the vote project in the 2004 election cycle. One day Russell Simmonds called the office looking for him to negotiate a support grant.

Alex Nemeth. Alex came from Minnesota and was a major contributor to many projects. He worked on fund development, management of the Ryan White HIV-AIDS planning process in New Haven, and on New Markets Tax Credit projects.

Michael Nogelo. Michael continued working at Cross Sector Consulting where he led their workforce development practice until 2023 when he was appointed President of the Eastern Workforce Investment Board (EWIB).

Fleming L. “Nick” Norcott, Jr. Nick received his BA (1965) and JD (1968) from Columbia. He was appointed a CT Superior Court judge in 1979, appointed ot the Connecticut Appellate Court in 1987, and the Connecticut State Supreme Court in 1992 where he remained there until his retirement in 2013. He continues to serve as a Judge Trial Referee. Nick served as Chair of the Board of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven in 2021. Nick was enshrined int he CT Football Officials Hall of fame for his work officiating high school and college games.

Francis Padilla. Frances worked on various projects with Harry Wexler. She went on to form New Paradigms Consulting and then to work for the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and Community Foundation for Greater New Haven and served as President of the Universal Health Foundation for 20 years. She served as Vice-Chair of the New Haven Board of Education and remains a board member of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.

Lisa Petra. After working 5 years at HWF on many projects, Liza went on to run the Women and Family Life Center in Guilford, CT. She currently serves as the Executive Director of both the Guilford Foundation and the Branford Community Foundation.

Matthew Storeygard. Matt is currently the Senior Managing Director, Investments and Bio Team Director for Connecticut Innovations, Inc. (bio here).

Dawn Westbrook. Dawn went on to work as an attorney for the Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities Commission and was appointed a State Court Judge in 2009 (official bio here). She was elevated to the Appellate Court by Governor Ned Lamont in 2023.​

Selma Gooding, Office Manager. Selma served as the glue that held HWF together and kept us on track. She continues to work at Cross Sector Consulting.


Sara Taylor. Brilliant Yale student. Worked on a number of grant projects.

Others who worked at HWF Briefly

MaryAnn Ott. Now head of the New Alliance Foundation.