LONGMEADOW, MA – While it appears Town Manager Stephen Crane will eventually leave Longmeadow for the town of Concord, the timelines for his departure and replacement remain cloudy.
On Tuesday, April 30, the Concord Select Board announced it would extend a conditional offer of employment to become that community’s new town manager, pending a background review and investigation and salary negotiations.
Crane told The Longmeadow News he has “no idea” how long the background process might take, though he said he did not feel contract negotiations would be lengthy. Longmeadow Select Board Chair Mark Gold cautioned residents that Crane could remain with the town for several more months before the process concludes.
“Stephen Crane has not yet submitted his resignation,” Gold said. “I think it’s very important that everyone understands that fact.”
Gold and Crane both noted that Crane’s contract stipulates he must give at least 45 days notice with his resignation. “I may give more [than 45 days notice],” Crane said. “One of the things that I am going to be doing in the next couple of weeks is working with the departments on coming up with a list of open items and prioritizing my time accordingly. There’s a lot going on and that list will be pretty long, but I will work with the departments and the Select Board to ensure that tasks that need my input are prioritized first. However, I have total faith in the departments’ ability to keep things moving forward whether I’m here or not.”
Crane has been the Longmeadow town manager since 2013 when he succeeded Robin Crosbie, the town’s first town manager who left the town for a similar position in Ipswich. Previously, Crane served as the city administrator for Lancaster, WI.
“Over the past six years, my family has really been embraced by the Longmeadow community and we really have had a wonderful life here in Longmeadow,” he said. “Even though there is excitement about new opportunity, there is sadness in having to move away from this life that we’ve built.”
Crane was one of three finalists to become the successor to outgoing Concord Town Manager Chris Whelen, who is retiring after 26 years. After interviewing on April 27, Crane ultimately beat out Concord Finance Director Kerry Lafleur and Northborough Town Administrator John Coderre. Crane said the position represents a career and compensation advancement while also offering personal benefits such as allowing him to be closer to his native Lowell.
“In the municipal administration profession, when you’re in a community, you are at or near the top of the organizational chart, so if you want to have the opportunity for new or bigger challenges, more compensation, more responsibility, and career enhancement, you have to go to a different town,” he said. “Concord is really an upper-tier position in the Massachusetts municipal administration ranks. It represents a significant advancement.
“I am from that area originally. I grew up in that area and that’s where I call home,” he continued. “This gives me an opportunity to be closer to not only my roots but also family and friends I still have in the area.”
Concord is a community of approximately 17,000 people with a general fund operating budget of $107.2 million. Longmeadow is home to slightly less than 16,000 people and the proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 is $69 million. Like Longmeadow, Concord’s government consists of a five-member Select Board with a town manager and Town Meeting. In Concord, the town manager is responsible for the management of all town departments and also oversees appointments for several boards and committees, including the Board of Assessors, Historical Commission, Board of Health, Municipal Light Board, Council on Aging, and Public Works Commission.
“The high level of engagement in Longmeadow has certainly prepared me for my new role in Concord,” Crane said.
The advertisement for the position posted by Municipal Resources Inc., the firm contracted by the Concord Select Board to generate a list of candidates, lists the salary in the “low $200k range,” depending on the candidate’s experience. Crane received a three-year contract extension from the Longmeadow Select Board in 2016 that includes a salary of approximately $140,000. Crane’s contract was technically scheduled to at the end of June and Crane said he and the board had not yet begun his evaluation process for this year nor engaged in any negotiations regarding another contract. However, he stressed that fact had no bearing on his decision to pursue the position in Concord, explaining his contract has a clause that requires the Select Board extend him a contract for the following year if he does not receive notice of non-renewal.
The Select Board discussed options for finding Crane’s replacement in executive session at its meeting on Monday, May 6. Before that meeting, Gold said he believed there were three possible strategies the board could utilize in finding Crane’s replacement. The first would be to hire a firm to advertise the position and identify potential candidates. The second would involve the Select Board taking on the responsibilities for the search. In the third scenario, the Select Board would hire an interim town manager who would run the day-to-day operations of the town while also conducting the search for a permanent replacement.
The Select Board used the third option to find Crane, temporarily hiring retired Amherst Town Manager Barry Del Castillo as Longmeadow’s acting town manager.
Gold also pointed out that Paul Pasterczyk’s role as CFO and assistant town manager will make the transition easier, regardless of the direction in which the board decides to proceed.
The process that led to the Select Board finding Crane was not an easy one. Longmeadow twice attempted to fill the town manager opening unsuccessfully before bringing Crane on board. The Select Board first selected Bourne Town Manager Thomas Guerino, but the two sides not able to agree on a contract. After the second set of interviews with new candidates, then-interim Town Manager of North Branford, CT, Bonnie Therrien was chosen but opted to accept a position with another community. It was at that point that Del Castillo was brought in by the Select Board.
Gold acknowledged the challenges with prior searches but said some of the issues that provided hurdles in those searches have been alleviated. He specifically mentioned that the town now offers a more competitive salary and some of the public conflicts between the board and the town manager have been addressed.
“I think we did learn a lot from that process,” Gold said. “Myself, Richard Foster, and Marie Angelides were all part of that process and I think our combined experiences will be very valuable as we decide how we are going to proceed.”
Discussing his tenure in Longmeadow, Crane said progress has been made in some of the areas he saw as challenges when he arrived in town. He recalled the Select Board’s top priority at the time was the construction of a new Department of Public Works (DPW) facility Other high-priority discussion was increased investment in infrastructure and enhancing fiscal management.
“The DPW is now under construction and the DPW as a department is performing better than it was when I arrived here in 2013. There has been some turnover and I think the community making a commitment to the department with a new facility has helped the motivation and morale of the department,” he said. “On the fiscal side, we have adopted the GFOA Recommended Best Practices model and have been recognized with an award for three consecutive years by GFOA. We have also identified and educated the community about the tax ceiling issue under Proposition 2 1/2 to the point where as we prepare our budget, the Select Board, the Finance Committee, the School Committee and others understand that we simply need to be as efficient as possible to both maintain our quality of life and forestall hitting the tax ceiling. In addition to trying to delay hitting the ceiling, we are also working diligently to identify long-term solutions that will help keep Longmeadow the excellent community that it is.”
Crane was also a significant contributor to Longmeadow’s negotiations regarding a surrounding community agreement with MGM prior to the opening of the Springfield resort casino, resulting in one of the most financially robust accords between the gaming company and neighboring municipalities.
“I’ve told many people that if you were not in a host community or a surrounding community of one of these casinos, it was very difficult to understand how complicated and intense that work was,” he said. “The biggest takeaway for me, especially because I was new in my position when that got started, was what a great team we had here in Longmeadow. Very busy departments took on a bunch of new work to try to identify in a serious and quantifiable way potential impacts of the casino.
“My other takeaway was that the community as manifested by Town Meeting really understands that you need to make investments in the community, whether it be in the form of legal fees to protect the community’s interests or programming or infrastructure. When I went to Town Meeting looking for appropriations to hire an attorney to help us, I never had any doubt that we were going to get the money. I knew Town Meeting would get it,” he said.
Reflecting on challenges that will face the next town manager, Crane said the manner in which the town communicates with residents remains a work in progress in the digital age.
“This is not unique to Longmeadow. The traditional model of government making information available and citizens needing to go get it doesn’t fit in the current model of communications where information is consistently pushed out to people,” he said. “As manager I tried to improve our use of social media to facilitate communications but I know much more work needs to be done on that.”
He added some important department heads would be retiring in the not-so-distant future and replacing them would be difficult.
“I know that when really good people leave, you need to have a strong organizational culture established so their replacements come into an environment they can assimilate into while adding to it with their own unique gifts,” he said.