By Jeffrey Epstein
The Selectmen interviewed five of the 12 candidates for the committee that will recommend a replacement for departing Town Manager Richard T. Reed. The remaining candidates are scheduled to be interviewed at the May 7 meeting.
The committee will be composed of five volunteer members and two Selectmen. Candidates submitted application forms and sat for brief 10-minute interviews during the meeting. The Selectmen examined the candidates’ thoughts on both their prospective role on the committee and the role of Town Manager.
Most candidates mentioned, as desirable qualities for Reed’s successor, the ability to work well with different types of people, and to be able to juggle the various tasks generated by the work of the Town’s multiple boards and committees.
Public management experience is important, said candidate Anne Bickford, a former member of the School Committee. It is also important that the new Town Manager be a strong communicator and a person who can work well with the Selectmen, she said.
“Really strong people skills,” are needed in a “tricky” post, said candidate Emily Mitchell, a Library Trustee. “The first word that comes to my mind is ‘collaborative’,” she said when asked about management qualities of an ideal Town Manager. Mitchell has lived in Bedford for 17 years, but is relatively junior to some other candidates with decades of residency. Selectman Caroline Fedele expressed her wish that the committee have a “good mix” of different people, including relatively newer residents.
Betsey Anderson, a former Selectman and Town Moderator, who was a Selectman when Reed began the job, noted how town government has become more professional over the years. “We are more sophisticated than we were then,” she said. This is a “new era” needing people with different experiences as well as an understanding of Bedford’s government.
Selectman William Moonan asked candidate Keith Backman, a charity organization board member, whether an “element of innovation” was important for the Town Manager, given how both policy and technology can change over time.
The Town Manager should be “somebody…willing to be in the first wave of adopters,” Backman responded. The coming years, he added, could involve changes in transportation, perhaps affecting the town’s relationship with Hanscom Air Force Base, and communicating meetings with the public could involve new media different from Bedford Cable Television.
Karen Kalil-Brown, a former college trustee, likened the job to that of a circus ringmaster, at the hub of many town government activities. The best managers, she opined, can adjust their style to the audience they are addressing. In describing her own approach to a position on the committee, she told the Selectmen, she has an “open mind” and is more invested in future decisions than past issues.
Reed, who earlier announced his plan to leave the post by the end of summer, plays an administrative role in the process, such as providing candidates with information such as a schedule of upcoming Selectmen meetings.
The candidates scheduled for interviews on May 7 are Emily Prince, James Mabry, Cindy Barbehenn, Noreen O’Gara, Carolyn Weaver, Kristina Philipson, and Maureen Valente.