Letter to the Editor: A Statement of Concern

I am writing this letter first as a Bedford resident and taxpayer for almost 33 years who takes pride in living in a great community with a tradition of a very well-run local government comprised of a team of dedicated citizen volunteers, as well as good professional staff. I am also writing having had a 42-year career serving two local governments. The last 30 were in Bedford as its Town Administrator/Town Manager.

The recent vacancies that have occurred in the Finance Department trouble me and should be a significant concern to all Bedford citizens who value a stable and professionally run Town government.

Within a few weeks of each other in January, four members of the professional staff holding key positions within the Finance Department all resigned. The positions were: Finance Director (who also served as the Town’s Treasurer/Collector), the Town Accountant, the Assistant Treasurer, and the Town’s Information Technology Director. While it is certainly common for a professional to change employers for advancement and better pay associated with higher responsibilities, it is extremely uncommon for an entire professional team to depart together. In addition to these four positions, the Director of Assessing position (now within the Finance Department) has been vacant for two years, with the Town relying upon temporary part-time services. There have also been departures of administrative staff within the Finance Department.

In my experience, this level of turnover within one department in such a short time span is highly unusual for any municipal government. Perhaps it could happen if there had been some kind of impropriety occurring, but I would be surprised if that were the case here. In the past with much of the same financial team in place, Bedford has continually received awards for its financial reporting.

Further, Bedford’s bond rating agency has often commented favorably upon Bedford’s strong and stable finance team. Losing this many professional staff members at once has the potential to seriously impact the continuity of the Town’s financial operations. It represents a significant loss of institutional knowledge all at once. These circumstances could negatively affect the Town’s hard-earned and excellent bond rating, resulting in higher borrowing costs for the Town.

The steps being taken to recruit professional staff also raise questions. A typical and thorough recruitment process for professional/management positions in municipal governments generally takes a minimum of 2 months, more likely 3 months. With the four vacancies that occurred in January, one would expect that the recruitments would be wrapping up just now. Instead, the individual to be appointed as the new Finance Director was presented for the Select Board’s confirmation at their January 28th meeting. Additionally, a Treasurer position and the IT Director positions have been filled quickly. Thus, recruitment was undertaken in not much over a month’s period of time, when one takes into consideration that this occurred over the holidays. This seems like a very short time period.

Attracting qualified applicants for municipal finance department positions is one the most significant challenges faced by municipal governments in the last several years. How extensive was the search process for the positions in the Finance Department, including steps to encourage a wide and diverse applicant pool? A wide and well-advertised recruitment is consistent with an organization that would want to be known as an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer. What steps were taken to ensure that Bedford was selecting the best candidate on the basis of merit, qualifications, and experience for such important Town government positions? How is it that the recently vacated positions within the Finance Department have been filled so quickly but the Director of Assessing has not been filled for 2 years and a permanent replacement for the Conservation Administrator (a different department) in a year? How is it that in 2019 a current School Committee member was hired as the School-Age Childcare (Kids’ Club) Director position in a matter of a week or two?

There needs to be a public explanation given by the Selectmen of the reasons for the mass exodus in the Finance Department as well as the inconsistent recruitment practices presently in place. The Finance Committee should also be very concerned.

Editor’s Note: Richard Reed retired as Bedford’s Town Manager in September 2018.


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Chris Gittins
Chris Gittins
1 year ago

Rick Reed’s letter to the editor, “A Statement of Concern”, contains an incorrect statement re the Conservation Administrator position. Rachel Kelly was hired in the fall of 2020 as a permanent replacement for Elizabeth Bagdonas, roughly seven months after Ms. Bagdonas retired. Ms. Kelly left the position at the end of January to become the Director of Planning and Development in Winthrop [1]. The position has been vacant since then, i.e., for slightly over two months.

Sincerely,
Chris Gittins
Member, Bedford Conservation Commission

Reference

1. https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2021/02/kelly-resigns-town-seeking-conservation-administrator/

Kurt Kreiter
Kurt Kreiter
1 year ago

Time to get out in front of this and create additional transparency. I was wondering about this myself, but didn’t know all the details.

Sincerely,

-K

Madeleine Altmann
Madeleine Altmann
1 year ago

We have lived here for over 40 years and we’re devoted members of the community Being a volunteer is part of our Civic duty. But Bedford has not made that easy. My husband applied for the conservation committee last August and never heard anything for almost 7 months. I applied for the Energy and Sustainability committee back in January and did not hear anything for three months. How is it possible that it takes so long ? Can you imagine applying for a job and not getting even a follow up email or phone call for over half a year. It so sad because both of us have extensive experience in these fields. But because we never heard back we just figured we were not wanted and moved on.

Sadly ,
MAdeleine Altmann

Peter Naum
Peter Naum
1 year ago

I find that I must both commend and concur with retired Town Manager Rick Reed’s comments regarding the recent decimation of the Finance Department. Similar to Mr. Reed, I also had forty years of local government experience, proudly serving two communities, with the last twenty six years as Bedford’s Finance Director before my retirement in 2011. During my time in Bedford, I was proud that the Town received Aaa Bond Ratings, excellent Audit Reports, as well as repetitive
awards for excellence in Financial Reporting from the national Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). I must say that such recognition came about and was reflective of the hard work and impressive decision making of the dedicated Boards, Committees and Town Meetings, as well as the Town Departments, including the Finance Department, which also, included many of those that have recently departed.
During my tenure, the turnover in the Finance Department was minimal and mostly attributable to the normal reasons, such as job advancement, moving or retirements. Also, as Mr. Reed as indicated, replacements were carefully chosen only after a several month period of review. In conclusion, I felt that I had to share my concerns. Bedford is a wonderful community, that I miss and was proud to serve.

Deb Picciuto
Deb Picciuto
1 year ago

I have similar concerns about “how Bedford is being run”. I have held public office in Bedford. I have worked in another municipality in Massachusetts. I applied for a position within Bedford government and experienced sub professional responses to my questions about my quick rejection As a qualified candidate I asked for feedback about which aspects of my resume were deficient such that I didn’t even warrant an interview. I got no response
Recently, in a different capacity I sought assistance that was needed and it required input from the Town Managers office. I was brushed aside repeatedly and eventually an assistant did return my call. There are reasons why people leave a job, but these departures and the uneven hiring practices are cause for great concern. Please know that I too will put forth my concerns to the selectboard in support of the observations made by our higly respected former town manager.

DPC
DPC
1 year ago

Rick, I echo your words as well. I have shared similar concerns with several Selectmen specific to the turnover you reference and future inevitable exits of other town department heads and or employees, if the ripple effects flow down stream from the Finance Departments mass exodus.

If this article from you does not wake people up to start demanding answers from the Selectmen, I’m not sure what will. The Selectmen reading this (and all of you will) should respond with answers ASAP and or set up a ZOOM meeting to respond to all residents looking for the same answers to questions Mr Reed tables in his article. You owe that to the residents of Bedford.

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