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Selectmen to begin negotiations with Guerino

Date: 7/24/2012

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW — The Select Board believes it has found its next town manager.

Pending contract negotiations, Thomas Guerino, presently the town administrator for Bourne, will become Longmeadow's second town manager since changing to the town manager system of government through a new charter in 2004.

"We voted to enter into contract negotiations with Thomas Guerino, the town administrator of Bourne," Select Board Chair Pail Santaniello told Reminder Publications. "The motion was very specifically worded so as to give us options should we have a problem while negotiating his contract."

Guerino's salary is anticipated to be between $115,000 and $135,000, according to the job listing posted by the Collins Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston, the firm that conducted the initial search.

In April, Guerino signed a two-year extension with Bourne that raised his salary to $138,000.

Santaniello said he hopes the board would be able to come to an agreement with Guerino and get him in place quickly.

"We are hoping to settle this as soon as possible," he said. "We have to negotiate his contract and then there will be a period of time for him to tie things up in Bourne, but we're hoping it all happens quickly."

Finance Director Paul Pasterczyk was announced as the interim town manager for a period of 45 days on July 2 and Santaniello said that the goal is to have Guerino in place prior to the end of the 45 days.

"We would like for it to happen within that time period, but if not, we will have to assess our options," Santaniello said. "But we have to be cognizant that Paul already has a full-time job as our Finance Director that requires his full attention."

 Guerino said, "I'm thrilled about entering the contract stage. I have fond childhood memories of Longmeadow because I had relatives that lived there. Being from Greenfield, I've always been more Western Mass. than coastal and my bosses have known that if a good job in Western Massachusetts presented itself, I would pursue it. Longmeadow has great desirability not only from a community standpoint, but also from a town government standpoint."

Needing a super majority — four of five members — vote to decide between Guerino and former Plymouth Town Manager Mark Stankiewicz, the board was originally deadlocked at the July 16 meeting as separate motions made to hire either finalist failed.

Selectman Mark Gold originally favored Stankiewicz and expressed concerns about Guerino, while Santaniello said he could not support either option.

Gold eventually decided to change his vote because he felt the board owed it to the town to make a timely decision. The board then voted for Guerino by a count of 4-1.

Neither dissenter specifically stated any reasons for their concerns, however, Guerino's most recent contract extension required new language that included the presence of a progressive disciplinary clause and a separate clause allowing the board to terminate his employment without cause, overriding the town charter, which allows for an indefinite term of the town administrator, barring cause for termination.

"I have a two-year contract and it's a very strong contract. Some of the things in that contract are things that one member of the board wanted," he said. "I've never had any disciplinary action taken against me and I have a good relationship with the board as a whole. I have received 'satisfactory' or 'strong' performance review grades in every assessment I have received.

"Should [the contract negotiation with Longmeadow] not work out, I have no issues with the selectmen in Bourne, my contract or my tenure," he added.

Most recently, Guerino received a "satisfactory" grade by the Bourne selectmen in 2010 and a "strong" rating in 2011. In both recent assessments, Guerino was lauded for his strong financial mind, but selectmen raised concerns with his ability to delegate responsibilities. Guerino spoke to that when asked by Selectman Mark Barowsky to name his biggest weakness during his interview for the position.

"I have been accused of not delegating responsibility, but I let department heads run their own ships," he said. "They know far more about their departments and their duties than I do. I try to act as a facilitator so that they can do the best possible job for the citizens."

Guerino did admit that when it comes to some administrative duties, he remains hands-on.

"I do my own typing and my own filing and things like that because I worked alone for years and also had my own business, so you get used to doing that," he said.

Guerino and the town of Bourne are also the target of a civil suit after his Feb. 23, 2011 decision to fire Richard Doherty, an 18-year member of the fire department, was partially overturned by the Civil Service Commission.

While the commission agreed that Doherty "engaged in misconduct that was harmful to the Town, the Fire Department and his fellow town employees," it determined that Guerino's decision to fire him was not consistent with the "principles of progressive discipline" and the town did not present enough evidence of offenses to merit such a penalty. Doherty's termination was modified to a 15-month suspension without pay.

Prior to the vote to negotiate with Guerino, Santaniello, suggested the commencement of a second search while utilizing an interim town manager.

"My opinion is this I would have liked to have seen something different," Santaniello said of the search. "The biggest problem I have is I feel that we as a board were not getting what we were looking for."

Selectman Marie Angelides, who played a major part in organizing the search, was among those who disagreed with Santaniello's sentiments.

"In regards to reopening the search, I disagree," she said. "We have two final candidates who were brought to us and we haven't finished with this process yet. I feel it's inappropriate and premature to say we want to reopen the search."

Angelides also stated that the board as a whole agreed to all aspects of the search.

"The board decided together to begin this process," she said. "The board had several conversations and came to a complete consensus to hire a firm to help us through this process and came to a complete consensus to go with the Collins Center."

Guerino noted that he was impressed with the process.

"The interview and vetting process was very involved," he said. "I have never been vetted so thoroughly and because of that I am even more honored to have been selected."

Angelides also expressed confidence in her vote for Guerino.

"I felt that Thomas Guerino had a special skillset," she said. "He has creative ideas in how to tap into alternative revenue streams and solved some big problems in Bourne. He showed an ability to bring groups together and moved some projects down the road for their town."

Angelides added that being a native of Greenfield and having a familiarity with the Pioneer Valley gave Guerino an edge.

"He also has ties to Western Massachusetts," she said. "He lived here most of his life and had a strong desire to return. I felt those strong feelings for the area were a positive."

Santaniello declined to comment on what he would have liked to have seen come out of the town manager search, stating he will adhere to the board's decision.

"I will support and uphold the board's decision," he said. "I will work with and support whomever the board has decided upon."

Guerino said he has not studied the town enough to name specific strengths and weaknesses, but recognized the town's strong department heads as an asset.

"What I do know is there is a really strong group of department heads with good experience, long tenure and institutional memory," he said. "That will be very helpful to someone coming in from the outside."

Guerino also identified the community's commitment to education as a plus and said he saw infrastructure, economic development and the Department of Public Works facility as areas that will require his attention should contract negotiations pan out.

A request for comment from Gold was not returned as of press time.