Saturday, December 21, 2013

Reed Was The Wrong Target

It is fair to say that last Monday’s Council of the Whole town council meeting was not their finest hour. As I’ve expressed elsewhere, I feel that they were bogged down in trivialities while failing to ask the most important question.

To a significant extent the shortcomings were not entirely their fault. While I feel that the final evaluation of Mr. Reed should have been televised (as has been the case with candidates for a permanent town manager) the details of his contract should have been ironed out in private. 

However, the fault for Monday’s fiasco has to be laid squarely at the feet of departing Town Manager Clark and, to a lesser extent, the council chairman. The rushed nature of the decision, allowing only a weekend to review Mr. Reed’s credentials and the proposed contract coupled with a half-hour meeting to render a verdict, was designed to leave them with little in the way of options. It was a “my way or the highway” tactic that has typified this Town Manager’s way of dealing with the council.

I hope that Mr. Reed will not be put off by Monday night’s events and will accept the position.

There are several reasons for my taking this position.

First and foremost is that it will help to answer the unasked question, “Is a part time manager sufficient for our needs?”

Second, a review of Mr. Reed’s credentials and his record in Leicester indicate that he is well-qualified for the position. To my mind a particular component of his experience in his last position was in dealing with budgeting in a severely constrained financial environment.

If the council is willing to begin to act in a responsible manner, realizing that the landfill gravy train is coming to an imminent end, it would encourage Mr. Reed to employ his skills in beginning a reasonable process of reigning in spending. The alternative is to expand the dump, lose the airport and continue to fantasize about an industrial park that has yet to show any prospects of becoming a meaningful reality.

That eventuality, however, depends upon a voting public that elects councilors willing to do the hard work of supporting cutbacks in spending rather than bemoaning tax increases in December when it is too late to avoid them. It depends upon council candidates who view their constituents as taxpayers, rather than the denizens of various town departments.

Assuming that such candidates might actually emerge (an assumption that, admittedly, runs counter to experience) Mr. Reed’s experience could be employed, indeed championed.

The third reason I would like to see Mr. Reed take the job is what will appear to some as an “inside baseball” rationale.

I was on the council when a similar situation arose in regard to retaining the last Acting Town Manager. Like the current situation, the council was given very little time to evaluate the only candidate put forward. Like the current situation the council was presented with a “take it or leave it” arrangement. Unlike the current situation, the entire process before the vote was done behind closed doors.

Councilor Peloquin raised the most relevant questions that resulted as a lesson from this prior experience.

However, the events that she addressed were in many ways the result of the involvement of a third actor. That third actor was our old friend Kopelman & Paige. Mr. Healy was put forward as a result of their recommendation to the council chairman. That affiliation was demonstrated to full effect in the efforts to rescind the Casella contract and the subsequent side letter which amended the effective date of the contract and precluded any further efforts to rescind it.

Unlike Mr. Healy, I have not been able to find any clear affiliation between Mr. Reed and our old friend K&P. Leicester has a different firm acting as their town attorney. The town’s Labor Attorney is D. Moschos, familiar to followers of Southbridge School Committee matters. While this does not prove a lack of any relationship with Kopelman & Paige, it does indicate a higher probability of indifference to their interests than was the case with Mr. Healy. 

For these reasons I hope that Mr. Reed will be able to overcome any feelings of having been treated poorly and accept the position.

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