Friday, August 16, 2013

Seekonk Selectmen, Administrator Need to be Professional

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday. August 16, 2013
By Bill Gouveia

            Seekonk Town Administrator Pam Nolan is looking for a new job.  She may need it sooner than originally planned.

             Nolan has been in Seekonk just over two years now, and apparently has had enough of the raucous and personal politics prevalent there.  She is currently a finalist for the position of town manager in Dracut, and was previously a finalist in both Topsfield and Maynard before those jobs were filled.

            While interviewing with Dracut selectmen, Nolan described Seekonk’s political climate as “miserable”.  She told them she was looking for a community with more political stability to allow her to focus on being a professional.

            Frankly, the best way to focus on being a professional is to actually act professionally.  That generally includes being careful about criticizing your current employer, also known as “biting the hand that feeds you”.  But sometimes it is difficult to be truthful and careful at the same time.

            At least some Seekonk selectmen were not happy with Nolan’s candor with her potential new bosses.  Both Chairman Nelson Almeida and member Dave Parker expressed disappointment over her remarks. 

Parker said Nolan did to the board “what she wouldn’t want anyone to do to her.”  Almeida called her remarks “disrespectful to our elected officials here in Seekonk”.  He added her statements “may make it difficult to find a new administrator for our town.  A potential candidate reading a response like that may not want to work for our town.”

Nolan’s remarks did not seem to be disrespectful to any individual elected official in particular.  If Selectman Almeida or any other official is taking the reported remarks personally, they perhaps need to thicken their political skins.

Their resentment of Nolan’s actions and statements is easily understandable.  But with all that has gone on politically in Seekonk over the last few years, it is pretty clear any potential replacements won’t have to even know of Nolan’s remarks in order to have concerns about taking this job.  All they have to do is read a few newspapers and talk to anyone in town to discover they would be walking into a hornet’s nest.

First, the job itself is structurally weaker than a town manager position.  The selectmen exert a lot of control over the day-to-day operations.  One of Nolan’s main complaints is the “micromanaging” that goes on with the board.  While that claim is not unusual for town administrators in general, it is particularly valid in Seekonk.

From failing to publicize vacancies on town boards and then appointing themselves to fill the spots, to publicly berating town employees beyond what is necessary, to botching even the simple job of setting a town meeting date – the Seekonk BOS has a well-documented recent history that does not put the town in a favorable light.

If a potential candidate doesn’t want to work for Seekonk, it will most likely be more because of what selectmen have done than what Nolan has said. However, there will probably be no shortage of candidates when the job does open up.  But qualified, experienced candidates?  Well, that might be an issue.  Time will tell.

Nolan probably should have chosen her words a little more judiciously when describing her current work environment, but it is difficult to argue with the validity of those statements.  And to be sure, she has contributed somewhat to her own problems.  She is not a blameless victim here.

But this should be yet another wake-up call to a board that seriously needs to come to grips with its own issues.  Seekonk’s town governmental structure is disjointed and easily manipulated.  There needs to be some studying done on how to change it for the better, and how to centralize authority in a true professional manager. 

If selectmen believe they and not the paid professional they are entrusted to hire should truly be in charge, then the bevy of problems being experienced will continue.  If they decide to come together and forge a new attitude of consolidating authority and re-instilling confidence in the integrity of town government, Seekonk should have no difficulty attracting excellent candidates for the soon-to-be-open position.

But if they don’t, selectmen need look no further than the nearest mirror to locate the real reason why.

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

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