Each of the three finalists for Reading town manager took a turn in the spotlight Tuesday during their public interviews with the Board of Selectmen.
The finalists are Robert LeLacheur, Reading’s assistant town manager and finance director since 2005; John D’Agostino, Abington town manager since 2010; and Kerry Speidel, Lunenburg town manager since 2007. (The screening committee identified Speidel as town administrator.) The selectmen interviewed the finalists in that order.
One thing they had in common: they all described themselves as strong listeners.
A summary of each candidate’s comments during his or her roughly hour-and-a-quarter interview follows.
LeLacheur has a unique background, according to one selectman, moving from the private sector, as a money manager to the public sector here seven years ago.
LeLacheur doesn’t want to see big changes in Reading. The town is well-run, he said.
One big change: Peter Hechenbleikner, who has been Reading's town manager for more than a quarter of a century, since the position was created, will retire June 1.
LeLacheur would guide the community through changes by dealing with people “honestly and directly,” he said, by explaining why the change is being made and letting people feel they are actively involved in decisions even if they disagree with them.
Reading’s assistant town manager was surprised, he said, that local business owners told him they hoped he would apply for the job. He has talked with them, he said, about the issues they face. Reading has seen considerable development in the last five years, he said.
Applying for permits from the town still isn’t streamlined, LeLacheur said. But sometimes business owners are “unreasonable,” according to LeLacheur, in wanting to open in Reading the same way they opened in another community, even though that process might not have been right.
D’Agostino told the selectmen he has worked in public service for 31 years. He described himself as a “collaborative” decision-maker and coach.
His job as town manager is, he said, to give the Board of Selectmen information to make decisions.
As town manager, it’s important, he said, to insure that the interests of the town as a whole are met. When issues are contentious, he said, leadership starts at the top.
His most difficult financial decision was to convince the town side of governments that it’s important for the school side to be successful, he said.
As for working with residents, the response to a request isn’t, “We can’t do something” he said, but, rather, “How we can” do it – or explain why it can’t be done.
He told the selectmen how he drew a large company to Mansfield – by contacting the executive directly and offering the company tax incentives.
Hired as a “change agent” in Abington, D’Agostino said some people didn’t like the changes he spearheaded. Contrary to news stories, he does work well with local boards, he said. After the membership on the Board of Selectmen changed, “Our initiatives didn’t get continued support” and the selectmen did not renew his contract.
Two members of the Reading Board of Selectmen will step off the board when their terms expire this spring – Stephen Goldy and Rick Schubert, Goldy told the two non-Reading candidates. Two of the three candidates for their seats – Dan Ensminger and Marsie West – attended Tuesday’s interviews.
As town manager here, D’Agostino said he would join local organizations and get to know business owners.
Speidel has worked in municipal government for about 20 years, she told the selectmen, half in management and half in finance. Her management skills are stronger, she said. She brought professionalism to her job, according to her resume.
Lunenburg is working on economic development, Speidel said, and tapping resources from Fitchburg University. As a graduate student, she said she worked on business retention and expansion reports.
Like other communities, including Reading, Lunenburg has regionalized some of its services. A regionalized dispatch center will save Lunenburg $100,000 a year, she said, and expand service to the community.
Besides outsourcing some of its services, the community is also looking to in-service – to allow other communities to use unused lockup space, she said.
Speidel’s vision for Reading? She’d have to review the town plan and talk to people. The great thing about a change of leadership, she said, is that people in the community may bring ideas forward themselves.
The selectmen will discuss the three finalists at their meeting this coming Tuesday, March 12. They expect to name a new town manager on either March 12 or 19. They expect to finish contract negotiations and have the new manager start in mid-May, so the new town manager can overlap for about two weeks on the job with Hechenbleikner.