Friedrichs objects to fast-tracking of Town Manager Selection


Dear Acton Forum Readers...

Below is a series of emails pertaining to the "fast tracked" decision about who will be the next Town Manager in Acton. A big city development professional? Someone who fights to keep rural character? Someone who enabled huge growth in the town they worked in?

The decision is important, because it'll largely determine what Acton becomes.

But the Board of Selectmen is making the decision in a series of fast-tracked meetings over 5 days.

The last time we chose a Town Manager, we took weeks once the Search Committee disclosed the names of the final candidates. This allowed the public to research the candidates and write in to support their favorite. Last time, the public was invited (encouraged!) to come to the interview and ask questions themselves, to assess how the candidates interact with the public. Last time, we had WEEKS to do this work and prepare for the interviewing and decision making.

This time the process is fast tracked and the public is only allowed to watch.

How do you feel about this? If you want the Board to slow down and let the public participate in interviewing, please write to the BoS at bos@acton-ma.gov by Monday, when the decision is currently scheduled to be made.

See below for my interchange on the issue with the Chair of the Board of Selectmen. I attend almost every BoS meeting, and I don't recall any discussion about fast tracking this and barring the public from asking questions.

* * * * * * * * * *

> wrote:

Dear Selectmen,

I urge you to extend the town manager decision process for a couple of weeks, and allow the public to ask questions of the candiates at a later date than Saturday. The process that is currently in play appears to leave out the public, except for whatever small group is available Saturday.

The process last time was very inclusive. The public knew who the finalists were with enough time to research their backgrounds, and prepare and submit questions, and then we were invited to ask questions of the candidates. The process allowed enough time for us to then lobby our leaders for our favorite candidate(s).

Acton has a history of valuing the input of the many volunteers in town. Acton has a history of respecting process which is inclusive to everyone, even people who may not be available every day.

This decision is an important one for Acton's future. I hope you allow a process that lasts a couple of weeks, so that the public can participate.

Sincerely...

Terra

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On 4/5/2018 5:04 PM, Janet K Adachi wrote:

Terra,

The schedule and procedure for the Board of Selectmen’s consideration of the Town Manager candidates are final, and are the result of discussion and agreement among the Board’s MRI consultant, Vice Chairman Katie Green and me. The Selectmen's evaluation of the finalists is the culmination of an eight-month effort by the highly-regarded members of the Board-appointed Town Manager Search Committee to identify the most suitable candidates for the Board’s consideration. The TMSC will be referring four reportedly very strong candidates to the Board tonight. With numerous communities vying for a limited pool of good candidates, expeditious action is essential if Acton is to have a good selection and secure a new Town Manager, and the TMSC’s months of labor are not to go to waste.

The selection of the next Town Manager ultimately is the Selectmen's responsibility and decision, based on the careful consideration of an array of information, including from the candidates themselves via their application materials and responses to questions from the TMSC, the final report of the TMSC and that committee’s collective judgment in identifying the finalist candidates, and, yes, public comments.

Between tonight, when the Selectmen and everyone else will learn who the finalists are, and next Monday night, 4/9/2018, when the Board will discuss the candidates and vote on whom to offer the Town Manager position, residents will have time to do their own background research about the candidates, listen to the candidates at Saturday’s public meeting, and provide comments to the Board, including during Monday’s meeting. (By the way, assuming that you yourself will be doing such background research, I would caution you against repeating certain inappropriate communications with other town governments that occurred during the 2007-2008 Town Manager search.)

Thank you.

Janet K. Adachi
Chairman, Acton Board of Selectmen

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Comments

Reader responds against demand for public participation

(Our Reader Comment feature appears to be down. We received this response with a request to post it.)

Allen,
This is in response to your (and Terra Friedrichs) postings on you guys being able to harass the town manager candidates:

We elect these folks to make appropriate decisions. We don’t need to make it into another forum for long-winded individuals forcing everyone to listen to their repetitive diatribe. It’s not difficult to imagine losing some good candidates that are exposed to this harangue.

I’ve also heard a number of people complain that the reason that many citizens don’t want to attend town meetings is because of a few attendees that insist on subjecting all of the attendees to their long-winded rants. Inconsiderate and selfish of peoples’ time and accomplishes virtually nothing.

Feel free to use my name.

Walt Tetschner

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.

Why public participation is crucial to decisions

Hi Walt,

There is a reason why it is important for public involvement and participation, not just for hiring the Town Manager, but also for Town Meeting.

Let me acknowledge first that you are correct, it can be annoying to listen to people with whom you disagree, and it is a less efficient management style to seek public input when making these decisions.

But the reason it should be a priority is two-fold. First, as a society, we make better decisions when we allow for differing points of view. What currently happens in town government (at least in Acton) is there really is very little if any opposition to most decisions. And then when we go to Town Meeting, there is no opposition from leaders. Anyone involved has learned that if they bring their disagreements to Town Meeting, they will be removed from office. This also makes it harder for ordinary citizens to speak because they often are the only ones voicing opposition. You may think this leads to boring Town Meetings but I think it leads to bad decisions that don't fully take into account divergent viewpoints.

Second, let me ask you what you would do if something you strongly disagreed with was occurring. Would you want to have input? Of course. Having this outlet for people who are unhappy is critically important to a democracy. Surely there are issues that happen (or could happen) in town that you would feel strongly enough about that you wished to speak. How would you feel if that opportunity was not presented to you?

Allowing public input gives critics a chance to be heard and to have an impact, even if leaders do not do what they advocate. Not allowing such input is a "process violation" which denies people an outlet to be heard. This is why most government actions allow for public input and feedback.

In the present situation, the last time a Town Manager was chosen, the public was allowed (and invited) to participate. I think it is more productive to ask why that isn't the case this time.

There is no question that the BOS has the power to just make the decision to hire the new Town Manager. And that is apparently what they are going to do. So if "the general public" is fine with having no direct community input, then these leaders can continue to run things as they see fit and tough luck for those who disagree. Speaking for me, I'm trying to point out the flaw in this approach and voters can decide if they wish to contact their representatives or take action next election based on what they hear, if they so choose.

You also argue that public input could carry negatives, i.e., a candidate for Town Manager could be upset at a question or "haranguing" by citizens. My response to this was to paraphrase what Selectman Peter Berry said when he indicated that the timetable was too tight for this decision and he favored public involvement. He said that the Town Manager had to deal with the public a lot and seeing how he or she interacted with members of the public might be a valuable screening exercise for the candidates.

But I make no apologies for asking for the right to participate, given the importance of the decision, the history of past searches, and the benefit that greater citizen involvement brings.

Allen

Allen Nitschelm has lived in Acton since 1998 and writes about fiscal issues at the
local and state level. He is a former member of the town's Finance Committee
and is an Associate Publisher of Acton Forum.