Cohasset Selectmen paid Franklin Town Manager Jeff Nutting $650.00 to moderate a three-hour goals and objectives workshop for them. Nutting was well worth the money and they’re thinking of having him back for a check-up next spring to see how they are doing.
Nutting has been Franklin’s Town Manager for 13 years and just signed a new five-year contract with the town. He brings to the table experience as a finance committee chair, a member of the board of the selectmen and the school committee. His first manager position was 1986 in Stoneham. In 2001 Franklin hired him.
The three-hour session was informative and fun, although Nutting told the board he would have preferred to not have the press there so they could talk more “frankly.”
Nutting didn’t waste any time getting to the point. “It seems conflict is going on,” he said. “Agree and disagree is a skill that needs to be learned.”
And then he told them a few things.
1. You need to set policy and strategic direction.
2. Budget is a policy statement.
3. Some things need to be resolved by statute.
4. You need to adopt policies that will guide and protect the town.
5. When you hire a town manager you have to set expectation. You want reports, etc.; it’s a check and balance.
6. The most important thing you are going to do (in the immediate future) is hire a town manager.
Nutting told the board that the Collins Center was a good group to hire to recruit a town manager. He asked the board if they were looking for a lot of candidates or a few.
Selectman Diane Kennedy said she was worried they were going to get a small, mediocre pool of candidates.
“The pool is small to begin with,” Nutting said. “In the small world of municipal government, everybody reads newspapers and sees all the issues you have. What can the board do to convince people to apply?”
Selectman Karen Quigley said: “Play nice in the sandbox.” She added that one of the reasons the board wanted the Collins Center to handle the search, soup through nuts, is because of the board’s problems.
Nutting asked the board what it could do to ameliorate its reputation. “You are trying to get the best town manager you can get, someone who will spend 5-10 years here.
Quigley said the board should exercise more tolerance. “We don’t get anywhere by constantly arguing.”
Select Chair Fred Koed said when there are disagreements on the board he tried to not take it personal.
Nutting dug deeper. “How can the board at this point turn the corner on civil discourse? If you’re on the short end of a vote, do you haunt people at the coffee shop for months?” He told the board it needed to enter into honest debate and discussion – “No bomb tossing, no finger pointing.”
Kennedy said there was a fundamental lack of trust on the committee that clouded all of their decisions. She said she didn’t think someone new was going to drop into a Mary Poppins scene. “I advocated for a wider pool.”
When Nutting again asked the board what it could do, Quigley said the board should reassure the person coming in that he/she would have the full support of the board.
Nutting noted that the board had a civility code. “The question is, does the board live by the code it established?”
Koed asked: “How does that get handled?”
Nutting said if the board were committed to mending fences, the civility code would be on the first page of every agenda. “Have the chairman read it, practice what you preach. As selectmen go, so goes the community. You’re the standard bearers. You don’t want to be the Tuesday night TV show; you really want to be the most boring thing on TV. “
When several selectman said the public and other town boards and committees sometimes got involved, Nutting said: “The only people who have to agree are the selectmen. When you have a three to two vote the next motion of the board should be to make it unanimous. It’s symbolic but you ought to commit to that today.”
Quigley said maybe the goal and the commitment ought to be agreed to by some of the major committees in the town, such as advisory.
“It falls on the board of selectmen to ask them,” Nutting said.
1. Don’t throw people under the bus if you disagree with them.
2. The board should be prepared to ask for support for the new town manager. It’s not too soon to get other boards on the bandwagon. Sell this for the next three months.
3. If you’re going to do this you really have to do it. If you can’t do it, don’t do it. If you go three weeks and the whole thing gets ripped up, you’ll look like idiots.
4. This is about a relationship, about trust. The board needs to have implicit trust with the manager and vice versa.
5. Government is the only employer that beats up on its employees in public.
6. Don’t beat up anybody in pubic. A personnel matter is not a public debate. Respect the chain of command.
7. The town manager works closely with the chair.
8. Schedule special meetings, where you deal with one issue for an hour or two don’t try to cram everything into one meeting.
9. You need timelines and responsible parties. You have to keep people on task.
10. You need to clearly understand how your legal system works.
11. Look into a Virtual Town Hall web page where every town department is responsible for updating its own pages. “We used to have our own web person, it didn’t work,” Nutting said “Now everybody does their own. It diversifies the responsibility and makes it manageable. It’s not outbound, but it’s easily assessed and worth looking into.”
Selectmen discussed all of the projecs they were working on. When Nutting learned that neither the schools nor the town had an HR person he told the board it needed to have a dedicated person to pull it together. Hire a consultant, hire a person. “A good HR person will pay for his or her salary every year.”
Also, Nutting said while it was good of the town to be concerned about OPEB, “OPEB will take you 30 years. Deal with HR.” He said HR should be a priority project and it was going to be expensive, but the town would get its money back “in the lawsuits you don’t get.”
Nutting suggested the town look into other ways of obtaining legal services. Franklin has a town counsel at city hall three days a week for $90,000 a year. “In Franklin we were spending $400,000 a year. “But an on-site attorney works with boards before they get sued.” Nutting said the entire legal budget of Franklin, with 1000 employees, is $140,000.00 a year. Also, counsel sits in on council meetings. Occasionally special counsel is hired.
Selectmen said they would schedule a legal services special meeting and invite town counsel.
And, the board voted to inform the Collins Center that it would fully support the new town manager and stop bickering.