By Chris Mazachrism@thereminder.com
LONGMEADOW – Town Manager Stephen Crane’s first performance evaluation will take place on June 4 after questions regarding the manner in which the review would be presented and discussed were answered during the Board of Selectmen’s special meeting on May 12.
The evaluation was originally supposed to take place on May 5, but Selectman Mark Gold suggested that it be postponed due to the absence of Selectman Alex Grant and the inclusion of additional information in their meeting packet that was not available to them prior. There were also questions raised about whether the evaluation should take place in open or executive session.
Attorney Gordon Quinn of Sullivan Hayes & Quinn LLC told the board that the evaluation could take place in open session and the official evaluation would be a public document.
“Under the Open Meeting Law, the performance evaluation of a public employee in his/her professional capacity must be discussed in open session by the board and cannot be discussed in executive session,” stated a memo from the law firm. “Furthermore, if discussed, the evaluation is required to be attached to the minutes of the meeting, as any other document referenced in a meeting would.”
Selectman Paul Santaniello questioned that opinion, stating that in recent years, under Quinn’s law firm’s guidance, performance reviews had been conducted in an executive session.
“I thought it was as recently as 2011 that we were working with your firm and things were done in executive session and the only thing that was brought forward in open session was the compliation and the narrative that was delivered to the town residents,” he said.
Quinn said he couldn’t comment specifically on what was addressed in the opinion delivered to the board’s chair in 2011 as he was not the attorney advising the town at that point.
Selectman Richard Foster called the evaluation a “horrible process“ and said he was “puzzled” by it. He expressed concern specifically on his impression that information compiled from the five board members would not be discussed or vetted before becoming part of the public record.
“It would seem the Select Board would sit down and have a conversation, even if it’s in a negotiation fashion, on the grades and the statements that are put forward before you actually finalize a document. That would seem reasonable to me under any personnel management system I’ve ever dealt with,” he said. “Here, it’s just ‘boom’ and it’s done with no meetings and no negotiation period or anything else. I think it’s a poor way to do an evaluation.”
Quinn agreed that it was a “cumbersome process,” citing the Open Meeting Law as the reason for its complexity.
Foster suggested changing the procedure through which the Select Board conducts its performance evaluations in the future, stating that the current system could be unfair to the person being evaluated or those conducting the evaluation.
Select Board Chair Marie Angelides clarified that the materials compiled from the board members did not represent the final evaluation document.
“That’s the working document. When we sit down to do the final evaluation, we use that, but we still have to create the document. Unfortunately now that has to be done in open session,” she said. “We’re waiting to do the evaluation. That was just the compilation to begin the process. That was a cut and paste.”
Along with waiting for his evaluation, Crane is also awaiting a discussion on his recent request for an increase in salary.
In a memo he sent to the board on May 5, Crane, who currently makes $105,000 a year, asked for a new salary of $120,000 per year.
He noted in the memo that during the first two attempts to fill the position, managed by the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Collins Center for Public Management, the posted salary range was $115,000 to $135,000. After Thomas Guerino and Bonnie Therrien were selected for the position, but failed to agree to contracts, the Select Board named Barry del Castilho acting town manager and charged him with conducting a third search. During that process, Crane noted, the starting salary was lowered to $110,000, with $115,000 budgeted for the position for fiscal year 2014 (FY14).
Crane was selected as the town manager after a brief stalemate among board members in late January 2013.
“A year later, it is clear that l have been better than equal to the role of town manager for Longmeadow. Not only have I successfully managed day-to-day operations, but I have also shown my abilities in non-routine matters – not the least of which has been casino mitigation,” he wrote, referencing the recent negotiations and successful arbitration with MGM Springfield regarding a surrounding community agreement.
Crane explained his request represents a rate “commensurate with the market rate for the position” and the $120,000 figure reflects a starting salary of $115,000, plus 1.5 percent and 3 percent cost of living increases approved for department heads for FY14 and FY15.
“When I was offered the position, I was offered a starting salary of $100,000 that was intended to reflect the Board’s valuation of my experience. During contract negotiations, the Board agreed to $105,000 and [Selectman] Paul Santaniello stated that if I came in and did a good job, the board would ‘make me happy,’” he wrote. “Acknowledging that I was the least experience[d] candidate, I took Paul’s statement at face value and agreed to what was a [demonstrably] below-market wage.”
He also pointed out that his current salary does not put him among the top 10 highest paid employees in town, including School Department employees.
“While the others on the list are exceptional employees who serve the town well, the town manager has the highest level of responsibility of any town employee under the charter,” he wrote.