By Dot Bergin
Did you know that Rick Reed has been in the business of municipal government for nearly 42 years? His 30-year run here in Bedford is amazing in itself (the average stay for a town manager is 5 to 7 years) but prior to coming to Bedford, Rick had nearly 12 years under his belt in the town of Gaithersburg, MD. He started working there as an intern, right out of graduate school.
Ralph Hammond and Julie Turner interviewed Rick in a special summer edition of Bedford Common on July 26. In alternately sober and light hearted moods, Rick looked back over his 30-year stint in Bedford with satisfaction.
Rick has been a constant in town life through the retirement of three police chiefs, three school superintendents, and four fire chiefs. His tenure has seen the adoption of major changes in technology. When he arrived in 1988, the Town had one small Mac computer, there was no email, no word processing, and telephone messages were logged on small pieces of paper instead of voicemail. If you wanted to contact someone at town government, you had to phone and often play phone tag before getting a response. Rick acknowledged there is a downside to all the technology advances: “There is the expectation of instantaneous response,” he said, “where sometimes you should take some time to think a question through. Everything isn’t always immediate.”
When Rick first arrived, Prop 2-1/2 (adopted by Massachusetts in 1981) was often top of mind at Town Meetings. Would the town need to do a general override? Fortunately, because of the town’s strong economic base, there has never been an override, although some of Bedford’s largest expenditures have been one-time debt exclusions. Bedford’s financial record is unique among contiguous towns: Each of them has voted a general override at least once.
Bedford’s infrastructure has undergone significant changes during Rick’s years. He worked to create a consensus plan to advocate and accomplish a number of major improvements: a Lane School addition, police and fire station overhauls, and the Library addition. Rick has also pushed for continual maintenance of town buildings, to extend their lifespan.
Rick mentioned that the population of Bedford was actually a bit higher – around 16,000 – when he arrived than it is today (14, 208) but we have more housing units and family sizes have gotten smaller. And that led to the dreaded subject of – traffic! Rick pointed out that traffic rises and falls in sync with economic conditions. The recession of 2013 produced a notable reduction in traffic but with brighter conditions today, traffic has picked up again.
The complexity of town government today demands highly trained people in key jobs. Not too many years ago, the Selectmen governed the town. Rick Reed was only the third “professional” at Bedford’s helm – beginning as Town Administrator and leaving as Town Manager. He’s a believer in hiring the best possible talent for each job; if he can hire from within Bedford, that’s fine but the goal is to select the best person for the job. (It should be noted that Bedford enjoys a reputation as an extremely well-managed town.)
One Rick Reed accomplishment, which is a big part of his “legacy,” was the formation of the Middlesex 3 Coalition. As Rick tells it, in the 2008 recession his colleagues in neighboring communities were talking about what could be done to promote the area more. “We were hearing from our individual boards of selectmen that we needed to do more on economic development…. I felt that the people who were going to fill up those empty buildings were national and international companies , looking for a building that met their needs – not necessarily in Bedford. It made sense for us to pool our resources and try to regionalize our economic development efforts.” Essentially, whether a company located in Bedford or Burlington, the economic benefit would spread to all the towns, at a time of relatively high unemployment. And that was the genesis of Middlesex 3, for which Rick has received many accolades.
Middlesex 3 now has roughly 100 business, governmental, and institutional members. Rick served as president for its first five years. Among other achievements, the Coalition is successfully running transportation shuttles around the region. One important facet is cooperation with Middlesex Community College, UMass-Lowell, and nearby technical high schools, to help ensure the region has a workforce with skills the new companies need. Rick takes pride in these achievements and he has been widely acclaimed for his vision in launching Middlesex 3.
When his TV hosts quizzed him on things he wished he had been able to accomplish, Rick chuckled and said, “There’s never going to be a lack of ideas on how to make changes and improvements in Bedford.” He would like to see something done about the Fire Station, which is inadequate for today’s needs and there is still the Great Road Master Plan to bring to completion. And last, the widening of Middlesex Turnpike, which Rick said was a project dating back 30 years, “from the time I first walked in the door.” Happily, the last phase of that project is now under contract and the end is in sight.
Any regrets? Rick said as he left Maryland on that summer day in 1988, his car and his wife’s car were packed “to the gills,” with a toddler in each car. As he started up I-95, he said to himself, “what the heck am I doing!”
Well, Rick, you made the right decision and it has all worked out for the best, for you and your family, and for all the citizens of Bedford.
Enjoy your retirement!