Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Amherst: Governed by Warlocks, Managed by a Wizard

The cartoon from which the above is excerpted recently came across my desk. I have no idea why we became the reference in this specific piece. Amherst does, however, have a general reputation for the flaky and bizarre (even leaving aside that cannibal thing). It extends from our government to our citizenry as a whole.

I can’t speak for everyone. As for the government, though: Warlocks? I’ve heard us (and our predecessors) called much worse. But not often lately, and that’s the main thing. We on the Select Board have tried to govern lightly and quietly. There’s enough drama in the world and the town, without our contributing to it.

Depending on how one looks at it, I suppose, “warlock” could be complimentary. It’s certainly better than incompetent. In any case, although the Select Board does not regard itself as an assembly of sorcerers, it did recently acknowledge the wizardry of Town Manager John Musante.

Last night, the Select Board formally concluded its first annual evaluation of Mr. Musante’s performance. The results are summarized in a press release issued this afternoon. (The full documentation on the evaluation process is available at the bottom of the Select Board web page, under "Related Resources.")

As Chair Stephanie O’Keeffe explained at the meeting, this is one of our highest and most demanding obligations. Under our Town Government Act, the five-member elected Select Board serves as the collective chief executive (which is why the we receive form letters and junk mail addressed, “Dear Mayor”). It governs, but it does not directly manage, for we hire, and oversee the work of, the Town Manager, who serves as chief administrator. (Perhaps the analogy is comparable to the difference between a chief executive officer and chief operating officer.)

We gave John the highest marks across the board (no pun intended).

To begin with, we praised him for restoring employee morale and confidence, which had reached a low in recent years. He brought to the job a calm temperament and shrewd judgment that allowed him to avoid unnecessary crises and master unavoidable ones. He thus steered us through the ongoing fiscal crisis with a minimum of turbulence and discomfort. When dealing with citizen fear of and opposition to major undertakings, such as the Gateway redevelopment initiative and the proposed solar farm on the old landfill, he showed himself capable of both firmness and flexibility. He was an eloquent advocate for the Town’s positions, but he reached out to opponents, compromising where feasible so that essentials were preserved and the projects could move ahead. In other words, he showed wisdom as well as intelligence. And if any further proof were required, one need look no further than the exemplary way that the Town’s emergency management team prepared for and dealt with Hurricane Irene.

As the summary puts it:
This evaluation demonstrates tremendous appreciation for your performance thus far. The Select Board and the community had high hopes for the skills, enthusiasm and tone you would bring to this position, and for the results those would yield. Our hopes have been met and exceeded. We thank you for your excellent work and dedication, and we look forward to your continued success in the service of Amherst.

 Press coverage:

• Scott Merzbach, "Board Praises Town Manager Musante," Amherst Bulletin, 26 Aug.
• Diane Lederman, "Amherst Town Manager John Musante 'hit the ground . . . in an all-out sprint' in the first 9 months in office," Springfield Republican, 30 June

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