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Watertown to add deputy town manager post by January 2014

Posted by  December 23, 2013 02:52 PM

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By Grace Donnelly, Globe Correspondent

After decades of the same town structure and years of planning, Watertown municipal government plans to create a new administrative post to assist Town Manager Michael Driscoll. 

The position of deputy town manager will be formed by January 2014, town council members said, butthe role will likely be filled by someone who already works for the town.

"The town structure as it is now has become more reactive than proactive. I barely have time to get the budget done. With the new restructuring I would hope we can be more proactive," said Driscoll.

Watertown, similar to numerous Massachusetts town municipal governments, functions with a structure that gives the town manager power to make decisions without having to answer to anyone. At the same time, Driscoll must be available to all 17 Watertown departments on a regular basis.

"It would be great to say to every department head, let's meet every month so you can tell me what is going well and what is not, and where we can use more resources. That would help me navigate between individual departments rather than focus most on the budgeting," said Driscoll, who has been employed by Watertown since 1977 and has served as town manager since 1993.

Different departments of the town have expressed issues with the current town organization."Lately, we have felt ignored by the town administration. It definitely varies according to each council and manager, but this administration we felt has ignored us," said Watertown Fire Department Deputy Chief, Tom McManus. 

Will Twombly, a Watertown resident of 36 years, also called for a restructuring. "The town has been functioning the same way for a very long time. We need to create new positions in order to answer to all of the needs of our growing population." 

Similarly, councilors have also expressed negative consequences of what they call a flawed structure. "I would say this to his face, that the town manager has a tendency to focus most of his attention towards the financial aspects rather than balancing focusing on the personnel and department aspects of the town,” said Council Member Cecilia Lenk, a member of the budget and Fiscal oversight committee. 

"The town was structured when things were simpler, and the town budgets were not so large, but we have outgrown it. We are growing and the town council has become a completely different council from what it was. They used to meet every other week and now I am in meeting after meeting," said Councilor Lenk.

Over the past two years, Watertown municipal government has conducted two surveys by outside organizations in order to assess issues in the town structure. The Collins Center for Public Management created the first survey.

"In Watertown there is no deputy town manager. This fact, combined with the multiplicity of functions that report to the town manager, deeply enmeshes the town manager in minor routine matters," said Edward J. Collins in the survey report.The Collins Center expressed the need for two new cabinet member positions. 

However, after reviewing the Collins Center study, the “committee agreed that the Collins report did not achieve what the town needed…it was never the goal of the town council or administration to add an additional layer of administration,” according to the May 14minutes of the town council meeting.

At the same meeting, Councilor and Chair of the Committee on Personnel and Town Organization, Susan Falkoff, presented an alternative structure for the town administration."Many observers in and out of the town have commented on the excessive work load of the town manager and recommended assistant town manager(s) to ease the load," said Falkoff in a later interview.

The Watertown Town Council then looked to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue: Division of Local Services to conduct a study in August 2013 to propose a new town structure in the most efficient, least costly way.

"In this report, our primary recommendation is to create a deputy town manager position. The town manager acts alone…our greatest concern is as a town manager there really is not a second person in charge for oversight," said Melinda Ordway of the IRS division of local services. 

After hearing the Massachusetts Division of Local Services Report, the Watertown Town Council agreed a deputy town manger position would work well within a revised town structure. 

"We are now looking into how we make somebody already employed by the town an assistant manager. Since they are doing something else, we need to figure out their additional salary," said CouncilorLenk, 

Watertown is the 13th most densely populated municipality in the state with 31,915 people.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

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