The consultant aiding the town in its search for a new town manager suggested to a community forum on Monday that Bedford residents should have realistic expectations.
Bernard Lynch, principal of Community Paradigm Associates, told the group of fewer than 20 people that there are about 250 Massachusetts cities and towns with managers, and about two-thirds of them have had turnover during the last four years.
“It is very much a competitive seller’s market,” Lynch said. “When you see what we bring in, you will have some sense of who we have as potential candidates.”
Lynch said it is hoped that the screening committee can start narrowing the field by mid-July and deliver three or four finalists to the Select Board by the end of July or early August. The new town manager would probably begin work in October or even November, he said.
Former Town Manager Sarah Stanton resigned on March 13 to accept a senior management position with a state agency. Colleen Doyle, Assistant Town Manager, has been in the acting role since the beginning of May.
Bernard explained that the forum is an opportunity for residents to share opinions on the ideal skills and attributes for the next town manager. Also, he said, residents can be helpful through their opinions on what candidates should know about the town, and the job’s opportunities and challenges.
Select Board Chair Bopha Malone, member Paul Mortenson, and five at-large members were present for the recommendations, several of which were based on Stanton’s style and protocols.
Robin Steele, who chairs the Recreation Commission, said, “We want town experience. Cities run very differently.”
Volunteer boards and committees should be working directly with town staff, she continued, saying that under Stanton, “it was more centralized. Everything had to run through the town manager and I think that hurt our process. We should not have to send in questions to have them answered.”
Sandy Baker recommended a town manager “who is approachable.” Fellow senior citizens “said they couldn’t talk to the town manager. There were never any answers back.” She urged the committee to “find somebody who is local, if that’s possible.” A town manager who is also a resident will be directly affected by issues such as aircraft noise, she observed.
Patty Carluccio said that the manager’s “role is to implement what the residents want to see,” as represented by the Select Board. Carluccio, who is a member of the Volunteer Coordinating Committee, said the executive should “respect and embrace the town committees.” The manager should be “operationally” as well as “financially sound” who can “implement our projects and make sure things get done.”
She added that the town manager needs to “get along with town employees;” the previous management style was “uncomfortable” for some town workers.
Sue Swanson, who was a finalist for the screening committee, said, “The town is struggling to find a new identity in this evolving environment.” She cited traffic congestion, rising housing costs, and empty retail storefronts, all of which are “stressing us. And over all of this is looming the crisis of the climate emergency.”
The new town manager, she said, should “pool the wisdom of all sectors and together address issues bravely and expeditiously, and preserve what is best while moving forward.” The new but vacant position of energy and sustainability manager should be prioritized, she said, and the manager “must bring a strong commitment to addressing climate change.”
Terry Gleason, former longtime member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, also was emphatic about the climate. In town government, he said, “no one is acting like it is truly a crisis.” Short-term savings are the priority, he continued, citing the recent five-year waste removal and recycling contract as a missed opportunity.
“We need a town manager that is not just concerned with day-to-day operations. We have a future to deal with and the rules have completely changed from 20 years ago,” he said.
Later Gleason suggested “a senior town manager who is not going to leave, someone who has a 10-year vision and is willing to stick around to see how that vision plays out.”
Steve Hagan, Planning Board chair, told the committee, “The town manager should act on policy and plans executed by Select Board. The town manager is not the decision maker; the Select Board is the governing body.” He added, “We don’t want somebody who wants to be a mayor.”
He urged the group to interview only candidates with experience as a town manager who worked in an open town meeting format.
Hagan added that the town manager needs to be “someone used to working with an active citizenry. We are volunteers and we can help out. We’re used to doing this stuff and we’re really cheap.”
As an owner of Blueberry Goat Farm, Hagan stated, smiling, “I am willing to personally guarantee one quart of goat milk once a week for the new town manager.”
Hagan also asked screening committee members what they want to see in the candidates, but Lynch said the purpose of the session was “to hear from you. We are getting feedback from residents and getting information about the town from department heads and Select Board members that will be put into a position profile.”
Resident Brian Covel called for an additional public forum, citing the small turnout. Lynch replied that the process is on a schedule, and there are other avenues for community input, adding, “The size of this crowd is pretty much what we see in most communities.” Lynch noted that there have been more than 180 responses to the online survey.
John Petrin, a senior associate with the consultant firm and a former Burlington town manager, asked attendees, “What makes the community special in your eyes?” Most of the answers had to do with people.
“I’ve gotten to know people all over town and they all wanted to help,” Hagan said, “The best selling point is the quality and talent of volunteers. The people of this town will help and will bring their expertise,” said Steele. “This is a very warm and welcoming and diverse town,” Carluccio added.
Swanson concurred: “We have many different visions, many different needs. The town manager is going to have to listen carefully to incorporate the concerns, ideas, and needs of a very diverse community.”
Petrin, citing the Bedford Flag and its legacy, said, “One word that comes to mind is pride.”