It’s good to see that the select board, in extending Town Manager Julian Suso’s contract for another three years, is tying future increases in compensation to performance and the attainment of clear and measurable goals.
Select board chair Megan English Braga explained the thinking behind the performance-based clause in the employment agreement and noted that, “Our goal was to allow the board to dig into the last contract, update it to make it more appropriate, and for us to think long and hard about how we were structuring the contract in such a way that really pointed to the items we really wanted to get done, highlighting specific tasks.” Contracts like this have become much more commonplace in municipal management and represent an appropriate approach to the work of the chief administrative officer (CAO) of our community.
According to coverage of the discussion in the Enterprise, the select board set four goals on which the town manager will be evaluated in November: implementation of the town online permitting system, taking down and proper disposal of the wind turbines, getting a project manager in place for the new Sandwich Road fire station, and creating and implementing a performance evaluation for town department heads.
I would suggest that these are good goals, but they are not a complete list of the necessary projects on which the town manager should be working; they are a good start. There’s far more on which the town manager should be evaluated, far more on which he should be working, and additional critical issues on which we should be focusing as a community, so I created a list to assist the select board in expanding the goals for our town manager. Here then are suggestions for additional items that are both important and necessary to warrant our trust and support:
Communications and community engagement—In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, my friends Bill Zammer, Gary Vacon, Michael Kasparian and I started the Falmouth Cares Business Roundtable to provide residents, business owners and employees with updates on the dynamics related to living and working in pandemic times. We enjoyed it tremendously and were happy to be a source of both information and support. However, a primary reason for initiating the program was the lack of information and assistance coming from the town manager’s office. People were in pain. They were suffering. They needed to know that their government cared. While Health Agent Scott McGann has been a steady and reassuring presence during the entirety of the pandemic, and updates from the chair of the select board have provided an important connection with our elected leaders, the lack of information and communication from the town’s corner office has been unsettling. This pandemic dynamic is not isolated. In today’s communication-rich environment, where cities and towns in Massachusetts reach out and engage through social media, community access television, podcasts, newsletters, and regular public updates, our CAO does none of these. The select board should set a clear goal for the establishment of a communications and community engagement plan with specific tasks outlining how and where our top appointed leader engages with the community he is entrusted to lead.
Diversity and inclusion—In an environment where the issues of diversity, inclusion, and, yes, racism are finally getting the attention they deserve, our government has been slower to react. Town Meeting made its message clear nearly a year ago—that a diversity coordinator is a priority and that restoration of the position formerly called the affirmative action officer would be a small step—but a positive step nonetheless—to making racial equity a priority in our community. Nearly a year later, the position remains vacant. This position is not simply symbolic. It will be the embodiment of a recognition that equity and equality matter in Falmouth. The select board should set a goal for a community-based and diverse hiring committee to make a recommendation to the town manager and superintendent so that the community is represented in the hiring process, and request regular updates on how recruitment, retention and training practices change as a result.
Business engagement—Much like the lack of communications with the community during the pandemic, I received several reports directly from concerned business owners that their efforts to survive during the shutdown were not only not assisted by the town, but were thwarted. I received more than one report of business owners receiving letters in the mail telling them what they were doing wrong, rather than personal efforts showing them what they could do right. Small businesses—restaurants, retail, and service providers—are the backbone of our local economy. They hire thousands of locals and contribute richly to our cultural and economic identity. The select board should set a goal for defined outreach and engagement with all sectors of our local business community and regular reports on how our businesses are being helped to thrive. A phone call or even a physically distanced visit convey a much more caring and personal touch. That’s the community we deserve.
Regulatory environment—A few years ago, I was meeting with a potential developer’s representative in a community where I worked, and he expressed gratitude for the welcome and inviting approach. He mentioned that he and his company won’t do business in some communities because they are hostile towards investment and development. He identified Falmouth as one of those places. Think of that. This experienced attorney singled out Falmouth as being unwelcoming to investment and development. That needs to change. We can develop responsibly and in an environmentally conscientious manner, but vacant storefronts and a troubling lack of affordable housing are not harbingers of a healthy future. Falmouth cannot—Falmouth must not—simply become a millionaire’s playground filled with second homes for the wealthy. The first step in avoiding that fate is encouraging responsible development and making it known that Falmouth welcomes investment—in its infrastructure, in its commercial sector, and in its future. The select board should set a goal for a “Falmouth is Open for Business” plan from the town manager, working to attract investment in the community through both commercial, mixed-use and dense residential development, so that our community retains the rich diversity that defines our community mosaic. Collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, the EDIC, and the Village Association should be an important part of this effort.
Those are four more simple but important goals. There are surely more, but this is a good start.