Town Manager’s Ardor for Local Government Started as a Teenager

Bedford Town Manager Matt Hanson.

Bedford’s new town manager is more than an aficionado of municipal government. To express it in the vernacular, he also walks the walk.

Matt Hanson, 35, was elected a Chelmsford Town Meeting member at age 19, and two years later, voters chose him to be the town’s youngest selectman ever. After two terms, he moved over to the professional side, as assistant town manager in Tyngsborough.

At the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Hanson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. His UML master’s degree is in economic and social development; he explained that the concentration “focused on the connectivity between government and the rest of society, how it all ties together: education, taxation, business, all those factors. Basically, they are all related.”

“Honeymoon” may not be too strong a word to describe Hanson’s experience as Bedford town manager after a month-and-a-half.

“It has been fantastic. It has been a very smooth transition,” Hanson said last week during an interview in the second-floor Town Hall corner office. “The staff has been supportive and knowledgeable. The town volunteers and residents have been incredibly kind.

“People have been going out of their way to introduce themselves. Board and committee members stop by to talk about what they are working on,” he continued.

Hanson said he has “made an effort to go to board and committee meetings to introduce myself and make myself available.” He said he has toured several businesses and gotten to know the Chamber of Commerce. He added that he speaks daily with Superintendent of Schools Cliff Chuang, who has been on the job about 90 days longer than Hanson.

After several group meetings with municipal department heads, the new town manager concluded that “it is a great group of individuals who communicate well together. At the meetings, department heads can hear what everyone is working on, and often one has an idea that can help another department.”

He added that his detailed weekly town manager’s report “is one tool coming out of that,” intended “to help the community understand what we are working on as a town.”

Hanson said his initial interest in local government was sparked when he began volunteer service as a high-school student recording meetings with Chelmsford Telemedia. “I fell in love with local government the more I volunteered.”

As an undergraduate at UMass Lowell, “I pretty quickly settled on political science as my major. I always have been a people person, stressing teamwork, communication. It’s a cliché that politics ‘makes the world a better place,’ but that was my goal at the end of the day.”

When he first ran for Chelmsford Town Meeting representative, “A lot of people at the time said, ‘Why on earth would you want to do that?’ It’s not something teenagers were interested in.” He continued as a town meeting member for 13 years. 

Hanson was an unsuccessful candidate for selectman when he was 20; a year later, he was elected – the youngest selectman in the history of Chelmsford – and served two three-year terms, as a college student and a procurement official in Westford Town Hall.

He was named assistant town manager for Tyngsborough in November 2015 and did not seek re-election in Chelmsford four months later because “it conflicted with my work schedule. There was just too much conflict and overlap.”

However, the transition wasn’t difficult, he recounted, because “I was still able to do the same work – just on the other side of the table. I was still very involved with the same types of issues, just in a very different role. And I do still enjoy being on the other side of the table.”

Asked if he had mentors during his early years, he cited two legendary Chelmsford volunteer leaders. The late Dennis Ready, known as “Mr. Chelmsford,” was a four-term selectman, a 25-year town meeting member, and a leader in numerous civic and social organizations. Frances MacDougall, also deceased, was a teacher and 29-year town meeting member, also with a long resume of organizational leadership in the town.

Hanson and his wife reside in Chelmsford with their five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son.

The Town Manager said he is looking forward to the Select Board’s upcoming meeting to set goals and objectives. 

“We have some big-ticket things coming up,” he said, such as the almost-completed space-needs study, the budget process, and fire-station design.

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