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Battles over turf, egos plague town manager/selectmen relationship

Date: 10/8/2015

LONGMEADOW – Bernard Lynch, a facilitator hired by the selectmen to help improve the relationship between the Select Board and Town Manager, identified challenges such as battles over turf, egos and a lack of communication on the part of both parties.

Lynch previously met with selectmen and Crane on an individual basis prior to the Select Board’s special meeting on Sept. 30 in order to generate his observations to the two branches of government.

“We’re elected and [Crane’s] the professional that has to protect the charter – those are egos,” Lynch, a facilitator for Community Paradigm Associates and a former city manager of Lowell, said. “You have to check your egos at the door. It ticks [Crane] off when he gets criticized all the time, but that goes with the territory. At the same time, there’s no need to wave over him that you could fire him next week.”

The relationship between the Select Board and Crane has seen its share of power struggles and complications during the past several years.

In February 2014 Charter Commission members sent a letter to the Select Board, criticizing its lack of compliance with the town’s charter in respect to the town manager’s authority and separation of responsibilities.

In June of the same year, Crane and members of the board were involved in a heated debate centered around the two parties’ roles and responsibilities during his first performance review.     

The board evaluated Crane for the second time in May 2015. He received better, but still mixed feedback. Concerns remained for some selectmen regarding communication and timeliness of information provided to the board.  

Lynch noted that the current market makes it difficult to hire town managers.

“If [Crane] were to leave or if you were to remove him, you would not automatically get [a new town manager],” he added.

In order to improve communication between board members and Crane, Lynch cited several examples – selectmen should try to meet informally with Crane at his office during the work week on an individual basis or inform the selectmen via emails.

“Communication goes both ways … it has to be amongst all, which does get complicated sometimes,” he added.

One of the worst problems for elected bodies is when one member acts like a “lone wolf” and chooses to publicly state that a decision that the board approved as a whole was the wrong decision, Lynch said.

He noted that sometimes elected officials have to “swallow their pride” and not speak out against a board’s decision after a final vote has been taken.

“At the end of the day, individuals don’t matter – you’re a board,” Lynch explained. “These are easy things to say, but I’m hoping that they’ll resonate enough that you’ll think of these things and move forward.”     

When Lynch met with each town official individually, every person told him that Longmeadow has no problems, he noted.

“I find it hard to believe that there’s not some substantive problem that Longmeadow has,” he added.

Selectman Thomas Lachiusa said the board discusses ongoing issues related to small items, such as sidewalks, when it needs to move beyond that and focus on more substantive problems.

Selectman Mark Gold said the board never hears about Crane’s frustrations managing the town and he would like to see him approach the board about issues such as the Department of Public Works’ gate, which is consistently left open by personnel at the end of the day.

“Your face is, ‘I’m taking care of it, it’s fine,’” Gold said. “Come to me and say, ‘I can’t believe how frustrated I am about that gate …’ Let us be part of the solution because we will back you.”

Lynch said by letting the selectmen know about frustrations, Crane could be “exposed if someone were gunning for him.”

Lachiusa said the board and Crane need to develop a level of trust in order to open up more about issues in the town.

“If we want to develop a more teamwork based collaborative approach there’s got to be some good faith and trust built up and it’s very hard to develop that,” Crane said.

Lynch noted that Crane has to take the selectmen at their word if they are seeking to help him.

“He may be ready to stab you in the back, but we have to take him at his word,” he added.

The next meeting with Lynch is anticipated to focus on goal setting.