By Chris Maza
LONGMEADOW – It hasn’t taken long for Longmeadow to make an impression on new Town Manager Lyn Simmons.
“I’ve been really impressed with the level of involvement by residents and the number of boards and committees there are. It really shows that it’s an engaged and active community,” said Simmons, who started her new position in the corner office of the first floor of Town Hall on Nov. 12. “I’ve been very impressed with the professionalism and depth of knowledge all of the department heads have.”
Simmons was selected as the successor to former Town Manager Stephen Crane by a unanimous vote on Oct. 2, beating out 25 applicants and two other finalists for the position. She agreed to a three-year contract that would pay her an annual salary of $139,000 on Oct. 7.
A lifelong Western Massachusetts resident with “a deep connection and attachment to this entire area,” Simmons said the prospect of working in Longmeadow was exciting given her history with the town dating back to her college days.
“I did my undergraduate [studies] at Bay Path when it was still a college so I have some familiarity with Longmeadow. When this position was posted, I jumped at the chance to come work here,” she said.
Formerly the chief of staff for Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, Simmons brings with her 15 years of municipal government experience. She said the move from chief of staff to town manager is a natural one. In that role, she explained, she focused on Department of Public Works (DPW) projects and initiatives, played a role in developing a comprehensive work order and licensing system that connected eight city departments, addressed human resources-related issues and refreshed the city’s website by first changing companies and later leading a rebranding effort for the site.
“As chief of staff in a city, you’re exposed to a lot of various items across all of the departments. You end up spending time on specific issues that really need extra eyes or hands or support to push it through,” Simmons said. “That exposed me to a lot of various issues that municipalities face. It’s such a variety of topics that it’s really applicable to town manager or town administrator kind of work because it’s a little about a lot of things.”
During their discussions on the finalists after their interviews, Select Board members specifically spoke glowingly of Simmons’ approach to communication. When it comes right down to it, she said, one thing matters most.
“No matter what contingent you’re dealing with, you just have to listen and try to understand what the issue is that they’re coming to you with,” she said. “Whether it’s a personnel issue or resident issue or in the Select Board’s case a constituent issue that they’re trying to help navigate, you just have to listen to get to what the root of the problem is and then figure out what solution might work best. I think that’s at the crux of most municipal work – just being able to listen and then problem solve and I think that’s one of the reasons I like working in local government so much. That’s where you can make the biggest impact in people’s lives.”
Just days into the job when she spoke with the Longmeadow News, Simmons said she has taken an immersive approach to gain a handle on the town’s priorities and is “starting to formulate an idea of what is most critical” to residents and departments.
“I’m really just trying to get a handle on the immediate issues that are facing Longmeadow and the departments and the Select Board and I’m figuring out what are the most critical to address first,” she said. “At the same time, I want to start looking at some of the longer-term projects or longer-term goals because I think you have to start looking at them simultaneously if you want to get to that endpoint so you’re not there on the last day and you haven’t done all the work that you need to do.”
She added, “I’m certainly working with the board and building relationships with all of the individual board members so we can have a really effective and collaborative relationship.”
With the complicated DPW facility construction and work on the new Adult Center underway, she said she has been working with stakeholders to understand the complexities of both projects. Interim Town Manager Jay Moynihan was asked by the Select Board to stay for a short period of time to assist, something Simmons said has been invaluable.
“Definitely getting up to speed as quickly as possible on both the DPW facility and the Adult Center is going to be critical. I’ve already attended some of the construction meetings for those and I intend to keep attending as many of those meetings as possible and really working with the people who have been point of contacts on that to keep the projects moving along,” she said. “Having Jay and having that transition period has been really worthwhile for myself but also for the community and the Select Board. It’s allowed for a smooth transition and I’m super appreciative to the Select Board for that and having the foresight to see how valuable that would be.”
When asked what residents should know about her, she simply said, “I think I probably just want them to know that I want to hear from them. I want to have a connection and a relationship with the community and they should feel free to reach out. If I don’t have the answer for them, I would love to work with them to get that answer.”