Monday, April 22, 2013

Political Marriage in Foxboro May be Ending

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, April 22, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            The marriage between Town Manager Kevin Paicos and the Foxboro Board of Selectmen has always been a tenuous and difficult one.  It would seem they have stayed together for the sake of the kids, who in this instance are the citizens and taxpayers of Foxboro.

            Now the time is fast approaching when selectmen must make the difficult decision of whether or not to continue said relationship.  Under the terms of their agreement with Paicos, they must decide by the end of this June whether or not to renew his contract beyond June 30, 2014.  Their most recent review of the town manager’s performance has folks wondering if the inevitable split will happen sooner rather than later.

            Selectmen as a group graded Paicos a “3” on a scale of 1-5, translating into a rating of “satisfactory”.  That did not sit particularly well with the veteran administrator, who said he was “disappointed” with the result.  He said his board “continues to hold me to five different standards of what needs to be done.”  He also added “Frankly, I don’t know what some of this means so I don’t know how to do things better.”

            Kevin Paicos is a strong and experienced municipal manager.  There can be no disputing that statement.  He has many strengths and a record of accomplishment to prove them.  Selectmen rated him highly with regard to balancing the budget and reducing healthcare costs, among other things.

            But they criticized Paicos for his ability to work with the board and allowing them to do their job.  Selectmen Mark Sullivan said, “Sometimes you need to step back and let us debate it, instead of becoming fuel on the fire.”

            If Paicos were to offer a public evaluation of the selectmen, it is probable he would come up with some very valid criticisms that would support his own performance.  Given his oft-displayed willingness to be frank and direct, it would also no doubt be an entertaining and interesting process. 

            But Paicos is the employee, and the selectmen are the employer.  Despite what many may believe, a town manager works for the Board of Selectmen.  He or she owes allegiance to the citizens and the community as a whole, but answers directly to the selectmen.  A good manager knows that relationship is the key to their ability to do the job.

            Paicos sounds rather silly when he starts blaming selectmen for not appreciating his work.  Over the past couple of years a strong case can be made that it has been Paicos who has not observed the proper roles to be played in town government.  It is Paicos who has alienated some board members, community members, and corporate partners of Foxboro. 

            His feud with former selectman Larry Harrington was a political battle Paicos won.  The town manager used a controversial issue to help shape the board in such a way as to allow him to operate more freely and with greater support.  He did so skillfully and deliberately.

            But now he is paying the price.  Now his board members are removed from the immediacy and overwhelming nature of the casino issue and other related concerns with the Kraft Organization.  Lacking a serious villain upon which to play against, Paicos is left looking like the guy who wants everyone to know he is the smartest person in the room (which he very well may be).

            His toughness is one of his best attributes, but may now be working against him.  He has been around long enough to know selectmen rarely if ever speak with just one voice.  When he says he doesn’t know what some of the criticisms of him mean, it is hard to imagine he can’t figure it out. 

            The average run of a town manager across the Commonwealth is about five years.  There is a reason for that.  If you do a good job in this tough position, it is often difficult to remain popular.  Paicos is obviously not concerned about padding his resume for his next position.  His record in all phases of his job is pretty well established.

            But his time in Foxboro may well be coming to a close.  Whether that is best for all involved is something that remains to be seen.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

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