Residents shared a long list of qualities and qualifications they would like to see in Watertown’s next City Manager during a community forum hosted by the City Council and the manager search firm.
The focus was getting input from residents during the Ad Hoc Committee on the Town Manager Search forum on Wednesday, which lasted more than 90 minutes. Residents also got a chance to pose questions about the search process to Bernie Lynch of Community Paradigm Associates. During the forum, Lynch said he expects the Watertown City Manager position will get a lot of interest from qualified candidates.
Qualities and Qualifications
A variety of qualifications were suggested by participants, including having strong financial management experience, good communication skills, and being a good manager of department heads and employees.
Many pointed to some of current City Manager Michael Driscoll’s strengths as things they would like to see continue, including strong support of the Watertown Free Public Library and the Watertown Public Schools, continuing to have strong fiscal management and to maintain the City’s high bond rating.
A large number of participants said they want to see someone who excels at interacting with the public, communicates well with the community and can work with the diverse population of Watertown. Some residents and City employees mentioned they are concerned about morale and turnover in Watertown City government, and they said that the person should be a good manager of the City’s employees and make sure that the City recruits and retains talented workers.
As the development boom continues, several residents said they want to make sure the manager is able to think of the needs of residents at a time when Watertown has become a life science hub. Another plus would be coming a community that is bigger than Watertown or of similar size with like-challenges.
Other areas of focus that some brought up include assuring that residents of all races, ethnicities and sexual orientation feel safe in Watertown and served by the City government, including continuing to build good relations between the Police Department and all parts of the community. People also said they want Watertown to have a diverse and inclusive municipal government.
Environmental issues came up as another area that some residents would like the next manager to make a priority.
Multiple residents said the next manager should be “data driven,” including collecting data that will be used to make decisions as well as sharing the information with the residents through the City website and other forums.
Watertown is not alone in some of its priorities, including a focus on using data, Lynch said.
“I will say the ideas of data driven decision making and transparency really are the new best practices for communities. … It is really a nationwide trend,” Lynch said.
See all the resident input by viewing the Watertown Cable broadcast of the forum by clicking here.
While he won’t know until the Watertown City Manager posting goes out, Lynch said he believes the job will be an attractive one. He spoke informally to about half a dozen managers about the position and they all expressed interest.
“My opinion is I think Watertown is a very attractive community for a number of reasons: the location is wonderful, and it is a very stable community to the point of a long time manager,” Lynch said.
Some wondered if replacing a manager who has been there for nearly three decades might turn off candidates. Resident Rachel Kay said her brother is a city manager in California and she mentioned the Watertown position to him and he said he was not interested because it would be a big challenge following a long term, successful manager.
That can be a concern, Lynch said, because some candidates are looking for what he called “the Goldilocks” of position: not one where managers turn over every few years, nor one where they would follow someone who has been there a long time. He has seen some places where a manager trying to follow one with a lengthy tenure only lasts a few years, but that does not always happen.
“There have been certainly been situations where that has happened here in Massachusetts, but there has also been a lot of cases where a longtime manager is replaced by a manager who is also longterm,” Lynch said. “It really depends on the political culture of the community and if the council and the manager can work together.”
He also warned that municipal executive hiring is very competitive these days.
“It is a very competitive pool. There is a huge turnover of managers across the country, particularly in Massachusetts,” Lynch said. “Over two-thirds of communities (in Massachusetts) have turned over their managers over the last four or five years — their town managers or city managers or town administrators.”
Residents asked how the recruitment process would work and what the timeline for the hiring of the new manager would look like.
Community Paradigm Associates will take the input received from the people during the forum, as well as from the survey posted on the City’s website, to help craft the profile to be used to evaluate candidates.
“That profile, is important as far as evaluating the candidate, how they match up to the attributes that we are looking for, how do they respond to the challenges and opportunities, what skill sets they have and experiences do they have that might match those challenges and opportunities,” Lynch said.
The profile will likely be completed within the next two weeks, and then will be brought to the City Council to look at and approve. Then Community Paradigm Associates will begin the recruitment process, which will take about four weeks.
“We are looking at probably having applicants in place by the beginning of March, having the Screening Committee review candidates in the first half to three weeks of March and brought on to the Council by the end of March or beginning of April,” Lynch said.
The public will have another opportunity to participate when the finalists are brought to the City Council, Lynch said. He expects the ultimate decision of who to pick as the next manager to be made by mid- to late-April.
Community Paradigm will be in charge of getting a pool of applicants for the Watertown City Manager position.
“Our goal is to build up the pool and make it the most highly qualified and diverse pool that we can have,” Lynch said.
The job will be posted in a variety of places, including the Mass. Municipal Association, where all municipal jobs statewide are posted, as well as organizations that represent people of color, sexual orientations, women and other groups.
“We are proud of searches we have done in the Commonwealth over the last several years that brought in more women, a number of people of color, and we make that a priority with our recruiting process,” Lynch said.
Some of the groups where the job posting will be sent include:
- International City/County Manager Association, which represents professionals managers across the country
- Engaging Local Government Leaders, a relatively new organization focused on diversity and equity
- League of Women in Government, a national organization representing women in local government
- Local Government Hispanic Network, representing Hispanic city managers and members of local government across the country
- National Forum for Black Public Administrators, a national organization that also has a Boston chapter
- Women Leading Government, a national organization with a very active Massachusetts chapter
- CivicPRIDE, a relatively new organization representing LGBTQIA+ professionals in local government management
Find out more about the City Manager Search by clicking here.