By John Linz
Although Rick had told me of his pending retirement, it was still a shock to find that he is actually doing it!
Rick and I go back to a time even before he became our town administrator. I was on a committee of three (along with John McCulloch and Joe Sweeney) appointed by the Selectmen to review applications and to make recommendations to them for a new town administrator. We had over seventy applications to review – some were quite humorous, but there were also some very good ones. Eventually, we invited five to come before us for interviews. Rick was one of them. Our interest in Rick was based on his experience as an assistant city manager for Gaithersburg, MD. The interview questions seem routine – why did you apply for this position in Bedford, what are the skills that make you a good fit, where do you see yourself in 5 years, etc. Rick impressed us during the interview. He had researched Bedford and chose us for family as well as for professional reasons. We talked about how he saw his role as the town administrator; in this discussion, Rick drew heavily on his experiences at Gaithersburg. And he expected to remain in Bedford in 5 years and beyond! We included him in the list of candidates we presented to the Selectmen, and they choose Rick. He began his Bedford career in June 1988.
As a FinCom member, and later as an Assessor, I had a good vantage point to observe Rick’s follow-up to the interview discussions. But to really understand the scope of his accomplishments, it is necessary to recall Bedford’s brief experiences with town manager government prior to his appointment. Up until the mid-seventies, the day-to-day operation of town government was managed by our “part time” Selectmen. But as the town grew, their day-to-day management of the town grew more difficult. In 1974, they appointed an administrator, in the firm belief that “…this position will result in a more efficiently run government”. (from the 1974 Town Report). In the dozen or so years, preceding Rick’s appointment, Bedford saw the appointment of three administrators. This apparent high turnover came about as the Selectmen were coming to grips with the specifics of authority that would be delegated to the administrator; this also translated to uncertainty among the administrators concerning the scope of their authority while the Selectmen sorted it out. But all parties recognized that Bedford was growing, and that the management of our local government needed to adopt some of the organizational structures of the state’s larger communities. And these are the conditions that Rick faced when he accepted his appointment in June 1988.
One of his first accomplishments was a total reorganization of the management of the town’s finances, through the creation of a Finance Department under the leadership of the Finance Director – a newly created position. In addition to being responsible for the day to day management of town finances, the new department was also charged with responsibility for developing long term financial plans for the town, including the 5 year budget models that had been done by individual FinCom members. And his hiring of Peter Naum for the Finance Director position provided the continuity and stability needed to sustain the smoothly running Finance Department that we take for granted today. Another large modernization accomplishment was the revamping of the town’s data processing systems into an integrated network that better supported interactive cooperation among all town departments. It also resulted in the town’s website, which greatly improved town government’s communication with the townspeople. One of my favorites, of many of Rick’s accomplishments, traces back to comments he made during our initial interview. Rick told of a task in Gaithersburg in which the manager’s office published a periodic newsletter highlighting news and activities going in Gaithersburg. He considered this communication an important element to keep the populace informed, and hoped to publish one similar for Bedford. Everytime I read the Bedford Byline, I am reminded of that discussion and the promise that Rick made.
Rick’s durability during the past thirty years is a stark contrast to the high turnover of Bedford’s first dozen years under the town manager form of government. Under his leadership, the town’s management structures and processes expanded to keep up with the town’s growth. The changes often required open and careful negotiation among many conflicting goals. During this time several necessary, and large, capital projects were undertaken. These projects were generally bonded in order to minimize the annual burden on the tax levy. However, the bonding was planned and executed in such a way that the bond rating services continued to assign their highest bond rating to Bedford – and allowed Bedford to sell its bonds near the lowest rates possible. As a former FinCom member, this accomplishment continues to impress me!
Bedford has accomplished a great deal during Rick’s thirty years as Bedford’s town administrator. His successor will find that his is a tough act to follow. But Rick has provided us with many examples that will serve us well as a guide for our next thirty years.
Thank you, Rick Reed!