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To the Editor:
It was disappointing that the Select Board couldn’t come to a decision on the selection of a new Town Manager last Tuesday. Reading needs a new Town Manager to fill the shoes and follow in the footsteps of Fidel Maltez, who left after just two years to return to his hometown of Chelsea as City Manager.
Everyone in town I’ve talked to can’t say enough good things about Maltez. The experience, leadership, and fresh perspective he brought to Reading had positive effects on our town and town government in the two short years he was our Town Manager.
Now we need to pick a new Town Manager and we’d benefit from one who has the same qualities as Maltez. Two of the four final candidates were significantly above the other two on those qualities. Matt Coogan and Clancy Main had the most extensive experience in local government and in leadership roles. They were more like Maltez-type candidates than the other two. Furthermore, their educational backgrounds were the most relevant. (Unfortunately, Main has now withdrawn his name from consideration.)
Nonetheless, two Select Board members refused to vote of any candidate other than Matt Kraunelis. Kraunelis is Reading’s Acting Town Manager and has been the Assistant Town Manager for just one year. Although he has worked in Reading for eight years, his experience has not been at the senior levels that Coogan has worked at. Kraunelis’s educational background is in law, which I don’t believe is the most relevant for the skills we need in our Town Manager.
According to the two Select Board members supporting Kraunelis, his key attributes are stability and that he’s a nice guy. Being a nice guy is not a key criterion for a Town Manager; tough decisions need to be made and being a nice guy isn’t the same as having leadership skills. (Actually, I think all the candidates are nice guys.)
I don’t believe stability – continuity would probably be a better word for it – is what Reading needs right now – and it wasn’t one of the criteria identified up-front for the search process. We’d had plenty of continuity up until Maltez’s selection two years ago. Maltez’s fresh perspective was like a breath of fresh air and really contributed to the positive effects of his time as Town Manager.
Prior to Maltez, Reading had had only two Town Managers, Peter Hechenbleikner for 27 years and Bob LeLacheur, an internal candidate, for eight years. I believe that in recent years Reading has not been well served by the insular, in-grown perspective that we saw up until Maltez’s arrival. It felt like there was an old boys’ network in town that was resistant to progress and innovation, and at times was quite divisive.
Reading needs new leadership and new perspectives to move forward on the major projects facing our town, our work to be a greener community, and our efforts to be a more welcoming community. I worry that selecting an internal candidate with limited experience and lacking relevant educational background would result in a return to Reading’s insular past rather than providing the spark we need to innovate and move forward.
Therefore, I encourage our Select Board members – as well as residents – to support Matt Coogan to be our next Town Manager.