By Eliza Rosenberry
From his purview overseeing 10 department heads and reporting directly to the Selectmen, town manager Rick Reed has a uniquely comprehensive view of issues facing Bedford.
Quiet and tempered, Reed has served as Bedford’s top administrator for nearly three decades. Last month, the Selectmen reached an agreement on the terms and conditions of Reed’s employment for the next five years.
“I have developed a fond appreciation for the high degree of civic spirit in Bedford, through which people work together for the common good,” Reed told TheCitizen on a recent evening in his second floor Town Hall office. “It’s not the same in many other municipalities.”
“There are always ways in which you could add new or improve existing services or enhance the town’s physical features or infrastructure so as to make the community better,” Reed said. “And many people approach town government with great ideas.”
But Bedford’s healthy financial condition and top bond rating haven’t come from heedless spending. In describing his approach to staffing and management, Reed emphasized his responsibility to the taxpayers of Bedford and said he would rather have a fully-engaged staff — who sometimes can’t get to everything — than waste taxpayer money or have to eliminate positions in an economic downturn. That’s a decision Bedford has not been forced to make during Reed’s tenure, he noted.
But that’s not to say the town government hasn’t expanded or evolved over the past few decades. Improvements to town-wide communications programs; expansions of public works staffing to keep up with stricter regulations; new geographic information system (GIS) and economic development positions; and, of course, improvements to town buildings have all occurred on Reed’s watch.
“We’re always going to have officials here who have different visions, or different kinds of opinions, about how local government should operate and what our priorities should be,” Reed said. “But in the end, my job is to try to listen to everyone, build consensus amongst the boards, particularly the Selectmen, and then support the achievement of the agreed-upon goals and objectives.”
As Bedford’s highly regarded school system continues to draw new families to the community, for example, a growing student population has consistently necessitated ongoing renovations and additions to the town’s educational buildings. Looking forward, Reed noted Davis School and John Glenn Middle School could soon be in need of improvements.
Reed also pointed to the fire station as a particularly pressing concern, given that space requirements for new equipment are stretching limitations of the station’s already-crowded town center lot.
Outside of municipal buildings, Reed described other changes necessitated by the demographic and generational needs of Bedford residents. For one, he said, younger residents expect their community to support walking, biking, and open space.
“I think that our younger generations value a holistic approach to healthy lifestyles in a way that is perhaps different from the way my generation did in the past,” Reed said. Bedford’s existing bike paths on old railroad beds are well-used, he said, and the town is planning an extension of the Minuteman Bikeway to the Concord town line.
Bedford will also need to address housing demands from empty-nesters and senior citizens who hope to downsize and remain in town. This responsibility is closely related to goals of improving regional transportation, Reed said, which is another way to enable people of all ages to reside comfortably in Bedford.
Inside Town Hall, Reed must also keep town processes and systems up-to-date.
“Technology is ever expanding, and people use it every day in their own lives, and so their expectation is that our town government will utilize the same technology, too,” Reed said, noting the town website will get some updates this year. “That’s one area where I would expect to see evolution and enhancements because we’re always learning about new and better ways to do things.”
For Reed, the role of Town Manager remains as challenging today as it was in the early years of his career. The ever-changing expectations and projects never fail to keep things interesting.
“However, the continual reward for me is the satisfaction of serving the public and playing a role maintaining or improving the quality of life here,” Reed said. “This is what motivated me over 40 years ago to pursue a career in local government, and will keep me motivated going forward.”