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Longmeadow Town Manager Stephen Crane’s review process beyond date of anticipated completion

Date: 12/4/2014

LONGMEADOW –  The Select Board began the process of reviewing Town Manager Stephen Crane’s improvement on Nov. 17, more than 160 days after his one-year performance review was completed.

At its June 4 meeting, the board agreed to develop and execute 30, 60, and 90-day reviews, which currently have not been completed.

Select Board Chair Richard Foster said one reason for the delay in Crane’s performance review was the fact that he was interviewing for a town administrator position in Tyngsboro, which was awarded to Curt Bellavance, director of community development of North Andover, at the Tyngsboro Board of Selectmen’s Oct. 27 meeting.

Former Tyngsboro Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto was hired for the same job in North Reading in May and left Tyngsboro in July.

The Tyngsboro job ad was placed July 9. Crane had his initial interviewed as a finalist by the Tyngsboro selectmen in October.

Selectman Mark Gold said he is disappointed that the board has not defined what a successful town manager should look like and an action plan for town manager performance reviews since the June 4 meeting.

“To some degree, Stephen can come back to us and say ‘Well, I think I did everything you wanted me to do but I had no goals for this year,’” Gold explained. “Because so far I don’t know that we’ve explained to him what we’ll be judging him on at the end of this year.”

Foster said since his initial review he has met with Crane to discuss issues throughout the town at least once a week for one to two hours or more.

“Stephen and I have tried, on numerous occasions, to press forward and there are some points that we have hit opposition on,” he added. “There’s no doubt about it; we don’t agree on everything. I’ve seen a lot of dedicated efforts from Stephen. I’ve seen good energies. I’ve seen good insight. And I’ve also seen periods where he was just plain stubborn as a Missouri mule with me.”

Foster said one of the main complaints against Crane is communication on town issues to the board.

“I have talked to Stephen numerous times about increasing the communication to this board almost to the point of being at error by giving us more information than we needed,” Foster said.

“I think sometimes my feelings are he gets caught up in the daily operation and there’s times when he forgets to communicate to the board or feels that they likely don’t want to know about it and there have been times that I have specifically said, ‘Yes, you have to communicate this to the board,’” he continued.

Gold said he was also disappointed that the board was not notified that visitors from a sister city in Japan visited the town in early November and traffic issues related to Quinnehtuk Road.

Foster noted that members of the School Committee did not know visitors from Japan were visiting Longmeadow High School.

“The areas that we feel are important for us to be communicated about are still not aligned to what the town manager feels he should communicate with us about,” Gold added.

Gold stated that Crane provided the board with a weekly update report, which in his opinion was essentially a data dump of town manager staff meetings.

“I don’t want to read about things in the newspaper before I hear about them as a Select Board member,” he added.

Selectman Marie Angelides said Crane’s performance evaluation should be focused on his focus of items and issues that fit into “the bigger picture” for the town.

“I think we need to sit down and make measurable goals of what we want him to look at and it should also be a reasonable amount,” she added.

Crane has pursued grants and regional planning that the town has not pursued in the past, she added. Crane has also contacted Bay Path University related to a payment in lieu of taxes agreement.

Angelides also suggested a town manager performance evaluation procedure, which involves following one specific project that Crane is involved with and analyzing the communications sent to the board.

“It’s completely contrary to what we think of in a democracy, which is that the buck stops with somebody who is elected,” Selectman Alex Grant said. “You can’t have somebody who is unelected who is not answerable either to the voters or somebody who is elected.”

Grant said his view of the Crane’s communication issue with the board is to set the matter aside if the town is being “run beautifully.”

“The concern I have is more substantive,” he added. “I see things like the water bill and what I’m struck by is the information that I get to evaluate the town manager is pretty much presented by him or the things that I stumble across.”

Selectman Paul Santaniello said his concern is the interpretation of the town charter related to the duties of the town manager and the board’s responsibilities supervising the town manager’s duties.

“If we can’t figure out what those rules and responsibilities are per the charter then we’re I think were up the river without a paddle so to speak,” he added.

Foster said the board would likely revisit Crane’s performance review during its Dec. 15 meeting.