by DeWitt Henry
As Watertown prepares for Michael Driscoll’s retirement after his 29 years of service as Town Manager; and as the City Council works with the specialized consulting firm Community Paradigm Associates LLC to search for his successor, it may be useful to remember how Michael Driscoll himself was hired.
I refer readers to https://www.watertown-ma.gov/1065/Town-Council-Yearbook as well as to the Watertown Public Library’s archives of The Watertown Sun and the Watertown Press along with the Town of Watertown’s Annual Reports for these decades.
THE FIRST MANAGER, PETER BOYER (1981-86)
Watertown’s government changed in 1980 from a Town Meeting and Selectman form to the Town Council and Manager form. The first town manager search was conducted by a Council presided over by Louis Andrews, a former Selectman, and included Roberta Miller, Marilyn Devaney, John Diliberto, Wayne MacDonald, William Oates, Mark Basile, and Renato D. Ray Musetti.
They hired Peter Boyer as our first Manager. Boyer was the President of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. He was in his mid-forties and managed Southbridge, Mass.
He served as Watertown’s Town Manager from 1981-86. From the outset, he struggled against both incumbent town employees and the elected Council. Town finances were a mess. Debt service was out of control. These were the Reagan years and the years of the supposed Dukakis Miracle, where a high tech boom on Route 128 promised prosperity. In Watertown, Boyer fought to control costs and improve services. The town’s greatest asset was the decommissioned Army Arsenal, and Boyer moved to sell the first Arsenal site, which would lead to a two-phased opening of the Arsenal Mall. At the same time, the Edison Company was suing the town for disproportionate taxation over time and he negotiated a settlement. But at each turn —contracting out public works, setting priorities, implementing a computer system — the Council President Andrews opposed him.
When the police chief retired, Boyer wanted a statewide civil service exam to find the best possible candidates and the department took affront and the Council sided with them. Boyer had to concede. Only Watertown Captains and Lieutenants took the exam, which resulted in his appointing Captain Robert Kelly as the new chief.
When the Town Treasurer resigned to take a job with a Boston bank, Boyer picked 32-year-old Michael Driscoll, who had a degree in accounting and who had been hired by the former Selectmen to direct the town’s public skating rink. A native of Woburn, Driscoll had served with remarkable success for seven years, turning the rink from a financial drain into a profitable and popular asset. Boyer praised his “competence and dedication to the community,” and congratulated him on his “willingness to accept this challenge.”
Meanwhile, Council President Andrews attacked Boyer for “doing a lousy job,” citing issues of accountability, unbalanced budgets, the use of free cash instead of long-term borrowing, and poor supervision of the departments.
In hindsight, Boyer appears to have made mostly right calls, even on his stand on a state-wide exam for Chief of Police, from which he had had to back down, though he’d won the new Chief’s support. Despite the Prop. 2-1/2 Tax Cap, he got state grants. He brought in computers and data processing. He supported the schools. He settled the Edison suit, made capital improvements; solved the trash contract; organized the planning process, and tackled land use and development. He reached agreements with 600 employees and found money for fair salary increases. If that all amounted to “a lousy job” as Manager in the Council’s view, then (he told the papers), the problem was that “everybody wanted this new charter, but they each wanted it for different reasons.”
He served at the Council’s pleasure and had no contract. The fall election of 1985 brought in a new Council President (Paul J. Hogan) and three new Councilors (Robert Ford, Pam Piantedosi, and Victor Palladino), but the majority remained against Boyer, who announced his resignation in July, 1986.
He would leave in November to take the newly created post of CFO of Chelsea with a two-year contract at a 20 percent increase in salary. One paper quoted him as saying, “I’ve reached the limit of my effectiveness in Watertown. In Chelsea, I’ll have very little public contact. The Mayor can deal with the pols and the parks.” He was also quoted as saying, “You don’t want to stay in one place for too long.”
THE SECOND MANAGER, RODNEY W. IRWIN (1988-91)
The Town Clerk filled in as Acting Manager until the Council did a national search and chose Rodney W. Irwin, the chief administrator of Yonkers, N.Y., to be the next Manager. Irwin, in his sixties, brought “big city experience” to Watertown (as the Councilors assured the press). Before he arrived, many of Boyer’s officials had resigned, including the Planning Director, Fire Chief, Assessor and the Assistant Town Manager.
Irwin proved to be expert. He submitted a budget with one million in cuts, backed by evidence: the state was to blame, not the Town. He fought to avoid layoffs and funded the schools. The Police complained that they had been cut in half while challenged with policing the new malls; they needed more officers and cruisers. But they would have to be resourceful. He also proved to know the law and to use the Charter to neutralize the Council. His appointments were excellent. He floated a $10 million dollar bond and kept up new town construction and repairs. Police Chief Kelly saw him as “the man the town needs. He doesn’t compromise. We always know where he stands.”
The seasoned Councilor John Diliberto ran for Council President in the fall of 1989 and won. His term began in January 1990. His Council gave Irwin a raise.
However, with the state itself facing a fiscal crisis, Irwin called for another $1 million in cuts and saw even worse cuts needed in 1991. He had kept the town building, avoided layoffs, and added three new policemen, but once Governor Weld announced the new state cuts, Irwin gave the Council notice. He was leaving to manage a wealthy suburb in New Jersey.
THE THIRD MANAGER, JOSEPH PAINTER (1992-93)
President Diliberto and his councilors were shocked. The Councilors agreed that Irwin had been a strong, business-minded leader and “a good money man,” however “heartless” his decisions had been when it came to personnel and to community values. They didn’t know how they would get through the coming crisis without him. Irwin was gone in May, 1991, at the peak of the budget hearings, leaving his assistant, Charles Cristello, as Interim Manager, while the Council opened a third search.
They advertised for someone “with the ability to accept differing views and a strong background in personnel issues.”
Charles Cristello wanted the Manager’s job as an insider, but got ruled out, along with 162 other applicants by a technicality in the Charter that the Council had overlooked before advertising: “applicants for town manager must have three years’ full-time experience as a chief city or town administrative officer; a bachelor’s or higher level degree; or, if an applicant does not have a bachelor’s, he or she must have an additional five years’ experience in public administration.” Cristello had barely three months’ experience. Among six finalists, the Council voted five to four for Joseph W. Painter of Palm Springs, Calif., a 47-year-old former city manager of Cathedral City, Calif., of Kennewick, Wash., and of Marion, Iowa. He had a B.S. in Public Affairs from the University of Oregon. He was a family man and a Vietnam veteran.
He proved a disaster from the first: theory-driven and clueless, some commented, especially about Town dynamics and dealing with the deficit budget left over from Irwin, combined with more state cuts, and new expenses for state regulations, such as recycling. Also in terms of Council support, of the slim majority that hired him, one Councilor retired and two lost reelection. Only two of Manager Painter’s supporters were left.
When Manager Painter recommended cuts in public safety, he was overruled and told to add five more officers. He complained about an inadequate computer system. He recognized the low morale of city workers, but had no feeling for how to involve them. He warned the Council that unless Councilors gave up their pet projects and worked together, the town would be placed in state receivership. He projected a $1.2 million deficit for the next year. Personnel problems worsened. Rumors of “misconduct” surfaced about the Police Chief Kelly, reviving a Council debate about whether the Office should be removed from Civil Service and made more accountable to the Manager. The town assessor took a health leave, citing stress in Town Hall. The head of data processing quit, complaining of lack of leadership. The Town attorney quit (reason unknown).
The Council’s year-end evaluation of Painter’s performance amounted to a vote of no confidence, condemning him for the disarray in departments, poor fiscal planning, absenteeism during working hours, bad relations with city employees, and attempts to interfere with town boards and commissions. The local press defended Painter as the scapegoat for the Council’s own bumbling and the “petty tyrannies of individual counselors.” Painter tried fighting back, but three Councilors moved to dismiss him. Finally, in Executive Session, the Council tabled the motion and issued Painter a 100-day action plan instead, but clearly he had been put on notice.
At this point, President Diliberto reached out to Michael Driscoll, who had proven an outstanding Treasurer under the three different Managers, and told him they were asking Painter to resign and invited him to serve as Interim Manager for three months. They needed an insider. They needed someone who knew the fiscal issues, the town, and the individuals, and who had no history of conflicts.
Driscoll was cautiously interested. He didn’t want to lose the security of his job as Treasurer. Given the example of the former Assistant Manager, he wanted a clear shot at the job of Manager, for which he was fully qualified, except for the Charter’s residency provision (he commuted from Derry, N.H.). Diliberto told him they could get the charter amended if need be. He could work a dual residency. The Council fully supported his candidacy. He should look at the agenda they gave Painter and give his own response.
THE FOURTH MANAGER, MICHAEL C. DRISCOLL (1993-2022)
Michael Driscoll had distinguished himself as Treasurer. He’d witnessed the conflicts and mistakes of the previous Managers and the town’s key personalities, both elected and professional. He knew Town Hall. He’d always given the best advice and support that he could. Now he negotiated with John Diliberto and a friendly Council.
He knew the stress points between his authority and that of the elected Councils. He knew the credentials of citizen Council members, often lawyers themselves, or business leaders. He knew the unofficial bases of power in the town, and their roots in the past.
He didn’t think the deficit was as bad as they thought. What was missing was teamwork. He’d call the department heads together and lay it out for them. They needed to slice into the deficit and plan a 5 or 6 percent cut across the board; otherwise they were facing receivership. He and Diliberto would need to work together on the budget.
He opposed an emergency override of Prop. 2-1/2, because there had been too much mismanagement, and they’d need six months just to rally support. He wasn’t interested in being a caretaker.
He insisted on the full authority of Manager from the outset.
Diliberto promised to get Painter and his assistant out in a matter of weeks. Driscoll would take over as Interim for three months, starting March 1. After that, assuming he did well, he’d have the inside track on the permanent job.
Still, Driscoll had his young family to think of. He worried about moving from New Hampshire and his daughters changing schools. The Councilors were on his side now, but once he made the unpopular spending cuts they would feel the heat and could turn on him. He’d seen it before.
Even before he started, he insisted they amend that Charter clause about “full-time experience as chief administrator for three years.” Also, unlike the previous Managers, he insisted on a long-term contract, since the Councilors knew him and knew his work. He would keep his job as Treasurer while he was Interim.
Joseph Painter fought the Council. He’d moved his family to Watertown; he had two children close to college age. He complained to the press that Driscoll’s meetings with the Council President had gone on behind his back.
However, on February 23, 1993, Painter resigned after a four-hour, closed- door session with the Council, and having won a generous severance package.
THE PAST IS PROLOGUE
For nearly three decades Michael Driscoll has defined and stabilized the office of Manager through eras of change. He has served under 15 Councils and 8 Council Presidents with skill, luck, and dedication.
To some he has been “Magic Mike,” remarkable for getting the job done, improving the Town’s credit rating and economic health, modernizing services and infrastructure, and cultivating Watertown’s reputation as a haven for young professionals. From the outset he has relied on credentialed expertise — commissions, lawyers, and consultants — as a way to protect against strong local personalities and political influences.
Critics of Driscoll, on the other hand, have portrayed him as more manipulative and self-interested than democratic, an inside dealer, with a circle of private sector cronies.
The oversight and direction of the police was one of his early challenges. The incumbent Police Chief, Capt. Robert Kelly, had come up through the ranks, and been chosen for his “vigor of personality and strong sense of leadership” by Manager Boyer in 1984. But in 10 years, Kelly proved to be militaristic and rigid as he faced the town’s budget cuts and increasing crime rates related to the opening of the new malls. Needing more officers, equipment, and cruisers, he grew exasperated with regulations and started acting quixotically: expecting local mechanics to fix police cars for favors, confiscating drug money and property and using it to buy cars, and bugging the station. Manager Irwin responded to complaints about the Chief by requiring him to undergo a detox program. Manager Painter also investigated the Chief, but failed to act, leaving the job of disciplining, and/or replacing the Chief to Michael Driscoll.
As Manager, Driscoll summoned the chief to a private hearing, led by the town attorney, where the chief could reply to specific accusations. The hearing board included Louis Andrews (then head of Human Relations), Driscoll, and Council President Dilberto. They were authorized under the state statute that “regulates the suspension, demotion, or termination of a civil servant.” The Manager was allowed to levy a five day or less suspension, and the Chief could appeal the matter to the Civil Service Commission. If the Manager imposed a longer suspension or termination, then the Commission would need to call its own hearing.
The Chief testified that they could only charge him with technicalities. Yes, he had overlooked state and town bidding laws. He had sold the confiscated properties on his own and for good money. He had cancelled checks as evidence. He had saved the town thousands of dollars. Yes, he’d skipped formal procedure with the DA’s office. Other town departments didn’t have drug money and property the way the Watertown police did. And even though they were under-staffed and under-equipped, they had one of the best enforcement records in the state. Also, other town departments had utilized the WPD’s seizure account. The chief also explained that the surveillance equipment he had installed in the police station had followed on a prisoner’s suicide. The DA and Attorney General’s office had done an investigation of this “bugging” and found no illegalities; then Manager Painter had asked an independent attorney to investigate, and she had disagreed. Lastly, yes, he had disciplined an officer for mistreating a prisoner, and when Manager Driscoll had reduced the officer’s suspension to only three days, he, the Chief, had neglected to sign the settlement agreement for three months, but he had signed.
The town attorney told the Chief they would let him know about their findings and action in due course .
Meanwhile, the November 4, 1993 election brought in Richard Mastrangelo as Council President (John Diliberto had resigned) and four new Councilors, who would take office in January.
Mastrangelo proved to be a strong, influential politician, with a particular interest in law enforcement. Now in his fifties, he had been a town selectman for five terms beginning just out of Boston University law, had chaired the board of selectmen, and had been member of the charter commission that had instituted the Manager and Council form of government. He was active on the Republican state committee. He had served on the Massachusetts District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. He had been Assistant Attorney General of Massachusetts. In Washington, he been assistant to the Secretary of HEW under Nixon; he’d served as associate deputy attorney general in Justice; as executive assistant to Elliot L. Richardson; and as deputy campaign director for President Ford. He was a family man, with two sons and a daughter, and had taken leading roles in the Phillips School and in the Boy Scouts. He was also a leader in the Sons of Italy and the Elks.
Richard Mastrangelo supported Driscoll’s suspension of the Chief, and recommended it be followed by a disability retirement.
The Chief took Driscoll’s subsequent letter of suspension as a personal attack. Speaking to a reporter the same day that the Chief received it, Chief Kelly called Driscoll “a “liar and a jackass,” and boasted of having “the biggest balls in Watertown.” He also threatened to “blow off the Manager’s head” (a threat he repeated to his own lawyer); then late that night was arrested for a DUI in New Hampshire a matter of miles from Driscoll’s home. Friends posted his bail. His driver’s license was suspended.
Driscoll convened a second hearing after the story broke in the Boston Globe, January 23, 1994. Kelly himself refused to appear. Prior to the hearing, Kelly’s own officers convinced the Manager to wear a bullet-proof vest, then stood guard outside town hall. Given the added grounds of disrespect, death threats, insubordination and unbecoming conduct, Kelly was put on extended leave.
Kelly left town and stayed at his vacation house in Falmouth. He fought the New Hampshire DUI in court, but was found guilty. Finally, acting on his lawyer’s advice, he agreed to accept the disability retirement with full benefits, even though he had eight years left on his contract.
Driscoll dropped the charges. Kelly would remain on administrative leave until his retirement began. Based on his salary for the past three years, he received his annual pension, plus disability, amounting to $72,000 each year, tax free. He was also paid full time for his suspension and his leave.
Manager Driscoll had prevailed, at a financial cost. More importantly, the WPD was in disarray and needed permanent, stable leadership. With Kelly gone, the real struggle promised again to be between the Council President and the Manager, where the favor of the Police Chief could turn the balance.
They both opposed making the only remaining Captain, Charles Jacoppo, permanent Chief and Driscoll soon replaced him as “Temporary Acting Chief” with acting Captain Steve Kelland, who had never taken the Captain’s exam, who had been a former friend of Kelly’s, and who had testified against Kelly for the sake of the Department.
Captain Jacoppo, supported by perennial Councilor Marilyn Devaney, was outraged by the move. However, while other officers wanted to compete for the Chief’s job, acting Captain Kelland was the only senior staff member who wasn’t a candidate, and who was ready to retire as soon as a permanent Chief was chosen. After Kelland’s appointment, Jacoppo complained publicly: “I feel that Driscoll’s actions … are not in the best interests of the Department … I have run this place for three months and what I’ve done has been overlooked. I’ve earned the right to be acting chief.”
Under Civil Service, the eligible contenders besides Jacoppo were Captain Jackson and Lieutenants Patey, Dupuis, and Deveau, all “good men” according to Chief Kelly, Ret., when asked by the press for comment from Falmouth. Lt. Patey was President Mastrangelo’s next door neighbor and close friend. For Driscoll, the standout was the 38-year-old Lt. Edward Deveau, who had made an articulate, impassioned defense of Civil Service to the Council. After a year of study, the applicants would take the exam, go through psychological testing, and an interview with the Manager, who would make his choice.
Meanwhile, modernizing the police was a top priority. Town finances were improving. Kelland proved cooperative and loyal. He got the needed cruisers, officers, and equipment. In November, 1985, Driscoll promoted Capt. John Jackson to Chief, based on his highest score on the Chief’s exam.
During this time, Driscoll found two new routes for funding the town. One was the negotiated sale of the land and buildings of the former Watertown Arsenal to developers after a thorough process of reuse planning, chaired by the influential clothier, John Airaisian. The other was the concept of BANs (Bond Anticipation Notes): short term loans that could be used for capital projects. President Mastrangelo and the Council supported the use of BANs, and voters agreed in April, 1995, to an override of Prop. 2-1/2, for debt exclusion only. Mastrangelo called it a “defining moment” in the town’s life. Town finances were now in order. In the Council evaluation for that year, Driscoll got high marks, followed by a new, three-year contract, a salary in the mid-’90s, retroactive moving costs, and a town car. When Marilynn Devaney protested all this, Mastrangelo asked her to resign, but she refused and demanded an apology. From then on their relationship was hostile and volatile.
Eventually, however, the Manager’s relationship with the Council President soured. It was due to police hiring controversy, again. Driscoll followed Chief Jackson’s recommendation and defied Mastrangelo by “reaching down” to promote Lt. Deveau to Captain instead of Lt. Patey (who had scored higher on the Captain’s exam). This disagreement made the Boston Globe. “The hiring was very upsetting,” stated Mastrangelo.
When Chief Jackson prepared to retire, he supported Captain Deveau for his replacement. However, Mastrangelo, newly elected to a second term as President, proposed adding a third captain (Lt. Patey) and creating a new position: Deputy Chief, which would go to the most senior captain, Capt. Jacoppo. Driscoll opposed this attempt to micromanage the Chief, and Jackson protested that he didn’t need a Deputy Chief, he needed six new patrol officers. Jackson complained to the press: “I should be consulted when councilors have questions or concerns about manning levels.” And Mastrangelo responded: “It is the legitimate goal and responsibility of the Council to set public policy, particularly in the area of public safety.”
Mastrangelo was confident that his proposal for a Deputy Chief would pass the Council, but Marilyn Devaney cast the deciding nay vote, stating: “I wish I could be righting a wrong, but in the keeping with the good of the public … I am voting with my heart and head tonight.” The wrong, in Devaney’s mind, was Jacoppo’s failures to make Chief.
Mastrangelo was enraged, telling the papers: “The town manager has precipitated this crisis and the blame for any fallout falls on him and him alone in my judgment. This is about leadership and the lack thereof shown by the Town Manager.” He accused Driscoll of defying the Council: “He hid behind the chief’s recommendation. He refused to do anything about it. While he may say he followed the recommendation of the department head, we in town government are quite confident department heads look to the town manager.” All Driscoll had to say was: “I respectfully disagree.”
The rift widened. Mastrangelo’s proposal had been blocked, but at his direction, the Council also refused to reappoint Driscoll’s choice to the Planning Board, the first rejection of its kind. The chairman of the Planning Board and another board member resigned in protest.
Mastrangelo insisted on holding hearings on all the manager’s nominations. In his second inaugural speech, he plainly stated that “with town finances now in order, the council is less obliged to accede to the town manager, as sometimes happened in the recent past because of the near-emergency the town was under.”
Mastrangelo pushed forward a charter review, which wasn’t due otherwise until the year 2000, and appointed a review commission. He wanted the council to have stronger input on the yearly budget, final voice in appointing department heads; and instead of having the council president elected through the voters, he proposed that the councilors elect the president from among themselves. Any changes would have to go to the state first as a home rule petition, and then back to town for the voters’ referendum, so nothing could take effect until November 1997.
In his Watertown Press column, Bob Ford saw little reason to change the current form of appointments to committees, boards, and commissions. Then he wrote about the lost leadership in Town Hall: “Initial reports were that it was Town Manager Mike Driscoll who had lost his leadership, and I found this very difficult to fathom, recalling the leadership role of Council President Richard Mastrangelo not so many months ago in providing a healthy salary increase for the manager.” He went on to list the Manager’s accomplishments, including a financial surplus, and concluded sarcastically, “It was then crystal clear to me that the ‘missing’ leadership I presumed belonged to Driscoll had been lost, instead, over these past months by Mastrangelo. And I am saddened and disappointed to reach that conclusion.”
Driscoll defended his appointments and priorities. When John Airaisian, as head of the Arsenal Reuse Committee, proposed that the town create a “semi-autonomous body” to deal with the private sector, both Mastrangelo and Councilor Devaney opposed the idea. The Council was due to vote on it in a special meeting. In the press, Airaisian stated, “We can’t do business with multi-million dollar corporations with too many cooks in the kitchen.” He had definite letters of interest, and it was time to act, before the market changed. They stood ready to amend the plan to meet any Council concerns, but its passage still looked close.
After two weeks of debates in Council meetings and the press, Mastrangelo was rushed to the hospital and operated on for a hematoma. He was 58. He came through without brain damage, but had to step down and turn Council leadership over to his Vice-President, Jack Zollo, a fellow Republican. Over the summer of 1997, Mastrangelo announced that he wouldn’t run for reelection. He passed away soon after.
The 1998 budget passed, as did the controversial Arsenal Development Corporation, the make up of which now included several Council members along with private citizens.
In the power vacuum left by Mastrangelo, Councilor Jack Zollo was defeated by newcomer Clyde Younger, a successful businessman and the first African-American candidate. Younger went on to serve for three terms; and was increasingly skeptical of the Manager’s direction, while also challenged frequently and loudly by Devaney on the Council.
Manager Driscoll had overcome the fiscal crisis. He had recruited and cultivated his management team. Sally Dias had innovated in the schools. Gerry Mee had reorganized and improved DPW. The library under the direction of Leone Cole was applying for grants for a new, expanded building. The local tax base was sound. The Arsenal buildings and grounds were sold to O’Neill Properties of Pennsylvania (out of ten competing buyers) for $20 million, plus $1 million for education, another $1 million to fix up the Commander’s Mansion, and still another $1 million for local charities. Progress towards a new Watertown seemed certain.
Chief Jackson retired in 2001, and was succeeded without controversy by Captain Edward Deveau, who went on to update and reorganize the department with an emphasis on community policing, officer training, new equipment and consortium agreements with nearby suburban departments. He also worked closely with the Manager on plans for a long-deferred new “state of the art” police station.
Mark Sideris’s first term as a Councilor was in 1996-97 during Richard Mastrangelo’s second term, then again in 2000-01, during Clyde Younger’s third, 2006-07, when Sideris served as Vice President. Then in Younger’s fourth and final term, 2008-09 (the first Council after Marilyn Devaney’s retirement).
Sideris himself began as President in 2010 and has remained President for more than a decade. He now presides over the Council that faces the Manager’s retirement and the search for a new Manager. Sideris has proven to be an enthusiastic, attentive, and diligent leader, who wants to get things done. The “special relationship” — emphasized by Driscoll when he announced his retirement on June 22, 2021 — that he and Driscoll have modeled is one of close communication, trust, and cooperation.
The hallmark accomplishments of Driscoll’s administration are summarized in those same public remarks to the Council. They are also on record in the annual “state of the town” reports on file in the library and partially online (recommended reading for any applicant finalists). The Councils’ evaluations of the Manager’s performance have been consistently positive, justifying competitive salary raises.
In recent years as the burdens of the office have increased, the Manager has delegated more of his powers to certain Department Heads (in particular to Steven Magoon of the Community Development and Planning Department) and concentrated more on budget planning and financial management.
In his own words, Manager Driscoll’s accomplishments over the last twenty- nine years include:
- New services such as curbside recycling and intermunicipal agreements for services with Belmont.
- Community events, such as Faire on the Square, beginning in 1991, Watertown Free Concert Series in 2002, and the Farmer’s Market in 2014.
- An aggressive capital improvement program and reinvestment in infrastructure, including a new Senior Center in 1993 and a new Police Station in 2010; as well renovation and expansion of the Library and Public Works facility; renovation of three fire stations, Town Hall, the skating arena and parks and playgrounds.
- Financing of $68.7 million dollars for street and sidewalk improvement, all within the confines of Prop. 2-1/2 (no overrides).
- Solution of union concerns about health insurance to town employees and retirees by joining the Group Insurance Commission in 2009 and the agreement to continue this coverage through 2023.
- A fully funded retirement system as of July 1, 2021; also a funding plan to address the unfunded liability.
- Credit rating in 2013 by Standard & Poor’s, a minimal bond credit rating agency, upgrading the Town’s long-term rating from “AA+” to “AAA.” the highest rating possible.
- A lease extension with the Boys and Girls Club through August 2042.
- Funding the Three Elementary Schools Project at $170 million within the confines of Prop. 2-1/2.
- An Acquisition of Land/Open Space Stabilization Fund with an initial appropriation of $6.5 million.
- A New High School Stabilization Fund with an initial transfer of $2.5 million; and the School Building Committee’s vote to move forward with a four-story new building on the existing high school site “only in a single phase with the use of temporary modular high school at Moxley Field.” Future steps to complete the Feasibility Study and proceed to Schematic Design. Then once approved by the Mass. School Building Authority for state funding, there will be no need to request a debt exclusion from Watertown taxpayers.
Driscoll rightly prides himself on “good government initiatives that have involved a lot of planning, a lot of hard work and a commitment to the taxpayers.” He also thanks and credits his Department heads and the “15 sets of Town Councillors” from 1993 to 2021.
However, he fails to list concerns from many neighborhood residents about his Planning Department’s strategy of increasing town revenues by encouraging outside developers to construct apartment and condo complexes (a direction opposed by Clyde Younger as Council President from 2006-10). He doesn’t mention the overly uniform architecture and caverning of such buildings now crowding the Arsenal- and Pleasant-Street corridors, nor the added town expenses for serving the commuters who will live in them. Nor the issues of traffic and parking. Nor the need for affordable housing. Nor the impact on town leadership of its new demographic, diverse in race, class, languages, education, and religion. Nor the additional gamble on the life- science industry building labs in underdeveloped zones. Nor the need for preserving the environment, responding the climate change, and increasing parks and open spaces. Nor the need for still more enlightened and accountable policing, despite the considered selection of Lt. Michael Lawn as Chief in 2016 (following on the WPD’s celebrated shootout with the Marathon bombers in 2013, and Chief Deveau’s early retirement). And perhaps most important the need for more pubic engagement, and, in the relative absence of an aggressive fourth estate, the need for improved transparency and regular communications with the public.
THE MANAGER SEARCH
What have we learned? Where do we stand? What kind of Manager, given this history, can and should we seek? A qualified and experienced inside candidate familiar with the Town and the workings of its government, present staff, and body politic? Or, as in searches decades ago, well-credentialed and experienced outside candidates? How fully and clearly can this job be described?
President Sideris announced (July 21, 2021) that he is hiring a consulting firm to help. According to the Watertown News, “he wants to spend the money required to get a quality Town Manager…to do this properly, do a background search and all that.” He doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of past searches; and the chosen search firm should specialize in hiring Town Managers.
The ad will describe Watertown as “a mature city” and “a desirable community (to work in),” and stress that our search is “due to the retirement of our current town manager of 29 years.” Our population is 36,000 and our budget $160 million. Our priorities include commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion; zero emissions before 2050; and education. Also we have “a large number of very active and engaged residents with whom the town manager will be expected to engage and interact.” The Ad Hoc Committee for the search has yet to discuss “the skills and background wanted for desirable candidates.” His or her responsibilities will include those in the present Town Charter, plus “the changes to be voted on in November.”
Obvious criteria include (at least in this writer’s opinion), financial skills, an advanced degree related to administration, experience in managing a comparable town, preferably in Massachusetts; communication and listening skills; dedication; integrity, and a collaborative, professional management style. We should also note that though avowedly a-political, Michael Driscoll has succeeded because of his political acumen: coalition building, teamwork, and respect for professional (and outside) expertise.
There is no indication of President Sideris’s plans about running for future terms, but given the struggles between past Presidents and Managers, he, any successors, and the new manager will need compatible personalities, agendas, and values for “the special relationship”(*) to work.
* According to Driscoll the phrase is from “The final report of the Watertown Charter Commission that was issued in 1980.” For more about bi-cameral municipal government on this point, also see https://www.westerncity.com/article/navigating-ups-and-downs-council-manager-relationship
DeWitt Henry is a Watertown resident and author of several books. He taught at Emerson College for over three decades.