Cohasset Selectmen interview Stephen T. Hartford & Timothy King

If the first round of candidates are an example of things to come – the Collins Center at UMass Boston has delivered big time.

Stephen T. Hartford had a long career in Westerly, Rhode Island as Town Manager (5 years) and previous to that, as Town Solicitor (10 years). He also served as an acting judge for the Westerly probate.

A New England guy, Hartford said he grew up in Easton, Connecticut and then spent most of his career in Rhode Island. After law school he joined his family’s law practice  in Westerly, practicing in southeastern Rhode Island. 

Hartford told selectmen he enjoyed  being a town manager. “I feel acclimated to the job, enjoyed the work, happiest I have ever been in my career.”

“I think there is some value in fact that I have enough experience can keep ground running and add value to the community. Not so much experienced that I am unmovable.  He added he had a lot of first hand experience in dealing with natural disasters (Hurricane Sandy).

Hartford said the town of Westerly, a shoreline community, had a population of 25,000 and a highly educated and successful electorate for taxpayers.  Westerly had a $30 million budget plus $50 plus million for schools. Enterprise funds were governed directly by the town manager and town counsel was counselor for both the town and the water department.

Hartford said [“I grew into a fairly seasoned municipal leader, but I wasn’t (one) when I came to the job.” Once appointed town manager he took professional development courses.

Hartford said his strong points are that he has the right temperament for the job and is a good communicator. “I don’t get excited easily.” He said the town manager has a lot of responsibility but not always the power to go with it. He also said he has worked with diverse groups of people, and understood that the town manager is always in front of people.

His weak point is that he has high expectations and standards for the way public facilities are maintained, and “I may appear to come across as controlling.”

And he has a good record in Westerly. I saw five separate budgets, and we had a surplus in each of those five years , even the Sandy (storm) year.” 

Management style:

Temperament and trust play a role in management, Hartford said. He said he likes to make sure he doesn’t go around department heads to direct staff. Nor does he believe in management by firing. 

He said he believes a strong town management understands operations and is able to set mutual and clear goals for department. “I don’t care for strong, formal structures.“ Hartford’s style is to meet with department heads and have them meet with their staff and report back. “The golden rule is to set an example, model good management and good leadership, make fair, decisions.”

Hartford said he had done some Human Resource (HR) work between the town and the school department. “In my experience, if the HR person is professional, they can be seen as a resource to staff. Personnel decisions were ultimately my decision, but I made them in consultation with department heads and the HR professional.”

Selectman Steve Gaumer asked: “Yankees or Red Sox?”

“Red Sox and Patriots. My wife and I really enjoyed winning the World Series this year. As a youngster (in Connecticut) I was not a big sports fan. When we moved to Rhode Island I thought  everybody in Rhode Island should be a Boston fan.” Hartford said when he met with department heads he was asked if he was a Bruins fan. He is.

Collective Bargaining

Hartford said he had negotiated two police collective bargaining procedures. Contracts and two water sewer contracts. He said he relied heavily on the town’s attorney and finance director, both of whom understood the future impacts of negotiations. “ Towns need to reform out the back door, they need to move away from taxpayer funded employment benefits.” 

When Gaumer asked how much input town had in negotiations, Hartford said town counsel had a lot to do with it. They approve the contract. Its set by counsel but driven by the (town) manager. But it has to come from the top down. “Making good choices is a close second or third to educating our children.” 

Selectman Gjesteby asked Hartford a general question about fees vs. taxes.

“I was never that big on fees. I started as a manager in the deepest part of the recession.” He suggested that selectmen entertain creating a revenue policy and consider the consequences. 

Hartford has overseen $15 million in road improvement projects, a lot of funding coming from Federal sources.

If offered the position, Hartford he  make a commitment to the town. He and his wife, a bank executive in Providence, Rhode Island have two sons in college. His wife would commute to her job in Providence.

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Candidate Timothy King

“I know the business and I have experience directly related to peculiarities of Massachusetts – a slightly different animal, King told selectmen. King is the assistant town manager in Wellfleet, MA, a position he has held since 2011. From 2003 to 2013 he served as assistant town administrator in Milbridge, ME. 

King said while he is not political, he is politically sensitive and a facilitator who is able to make things happen, and he spends a great deal of time listening. “I don’t try to force change just for the sake of change. It may look like a good idea to combine the police and fire departments, but there are usually very good reasons why things are the way they are. 

He said his strengths are his critical thinking skills. He likes to determine where he’d like to end up and work out how to arrive at that place. “I identify stakeholders and talk with them. I don’t try to limit the number of stakeholders; I don’t operate in a vacuum and I like to bring people into the process. If I make a mistake, I own it.”

King noted that he stayed in Ellsworth Maine where he was city manager twice as long as any other manager. 

“It’s never an easy budget year,” King said. But he works with the board of selectmen developing a guide for the year. “We work on it jointly and then issue it jointly to department heads. I like to cut the budget and leave some room where selectman can put some things back in.”

King responded to selectmen-generated questions as follows:

1. Your capital improvement program should be more than 5 years and you should have good controls, so expenditures are in line. Budget information  must be shared with the finance committee and selectmen at same time .Flag accounts that look like they’re out of whack.

2. Try to avoid Christmas in June (when department heads spend all of the money left in their budget). I noticed that Cohasset doesn’t have a huge unrestricted fund balance. You need to grow that balance. 

3. Efficiencies –  l like to have actual expenditures  in every account for past five years so I can see what is actually spent. I don’t like to spend money where it doesn’t need to be spent. When is the last time the town reviewed its inventory of vehicles? This needs to be done. You could be paying premiums on vehicles you no longer own, coverages you no longer need. You might not need collision on it any more.  In talking with the treasurer and the town accountant before the interview, King said the town should be looking at tax  title acquired properties the town can sell.   

In Ellsworth, Maine solid waste costing was costing 3 or $400,000 a year. King created a pay as you throw program as well as curb side pickup  and generated over $350,000. Recycling went sky high. We decreased solid waste ad didn’t have to pay for our disposal. The program is still going strong.”

King said he was the HR person in Wellfleet, MA, and he’s working to build that system for town government, as the schools are regional. In the summer Wellfleet has a population of 30,000. In the winter it’s 3,500. Wellfleet has a regional water district, 8 full time firefighters who are also paramedics, and the town runs its own rescue.  The town’s budget is $14 million including the schools ($4 million).

King said he felt appointed boards and committees were a huge asset to community. 

On the fees vs. taxes question, King said fees were here to stay. “People who can’t afford that fee should receive that service without a fee. The same thing for sports activities.” 

King told Gaumer they only had a hockey club when he was at the University of Maine. “They’re going to beat UNH this week,” he said. 

“I didn’t know Rockland State Prison let people out,” Gaumer laughed.

In off hours, King said he jogged, walked, hiked, and did downhill and cross country skiing.

Select chair Fred Koed noted that being a town manager was not an easy job.”How do you handled all these different opinions going on?”

King said it was his role to make sure selectmen understood the issues, and if dysfunctional things were going on, then he would meet with the chair and talk. “I’m confident that each of you when you walk though this door, are acting in the best  interests of the community.”

Gaumer  said the town had had four town managers in five years. (CORRECTION: the town has had two town managers and two acting town managers in five years).  

King said: “I’d like to be your town manager…I didn’t come down here to retire.”

© Copyright 2013 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed
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