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Deveau says CAO’s role calls for unique evaluation form

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SHIRLEY — Selectman Andy Deveau made a case Monday night for creating a new evaluation process dedicated to one position, that of chief administrative officer.

The other selectmen — Kendra Dumont and Chairman David Swain — have said that with some adjustments, they’re satisfied with the evaluation form created by the Personnel Board and used to evaluate other town employees.

But Deveau did not use the generic form when the board evaluated CAO David Berry a couple of meetings ago. Instead, he rated Berry’s job performance in narrative form.

The issue came up again Monday night as the final agenda item under new business: “Review of CAO Goals and Objectives.”

Deveau presented his reasoning for carving out a singular evaluation process for what he described as a unique job, unlike that of town administrator. The review was part of that process and required by Berry’s contract, he said.

Chairman David Swain agreed goals and objectives must be clear, both the selectmen’s and the CAO’s, but “I don’t see much” on Berry’s side, he said.

“Well, I would think you’d tell me,” Berry responded.

That said, he outlined a to-do list that included working on projections for a multi-year budget and capital plan. “We need to do more there,” Berry conceded.

Other goals included improved working relationships with other town boards, the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District and the town of Ayer and developing an economic development strategy for sustainable town government.

Energy initiatives must be “refined,” with timelines and deadlines set, Berry continued.

One project he’s been working on is a policy manual.

While the Government Study Committee report addressed policies, this would be in “standard format,” he said. Combined with other sources, the book would be a comprehensive package that could be handed out to new employees, Berry said.

Dumont said policies must include training. “You can’t just hand it out,” she said.

More important, and first on Swain’s list was Town Hall morale.

“We all get calls” from unhappy employees, he said, and an all-staff meeting had been suggested as a way for everybody to air complaints and concerns.

But Berry’s approach has been different.

“I’ve been meeting with them (employees) individually…that’s in process,” he said. As he sees it, a one-table sit-down might be “unmanageable” and should only be a last resort, if issues can’t be resolved one at a time.

“I have an open door policy,” he said. And he walks through the building, speaking with folks regularly. He acknowledged, however, that some have “chosen not to talk to me.”

Swain still favored an all-staff powwow.

He also chided Berry for falling behind on other goals, such as coming up with and implementing a fix for the Main Street bridge and compiling a list of saleable surplus properties for Town Meeting to consider.

The bridge is still in bad shape and with ATM set for May, there’s no property list yet.

“I thought we’d have that” by now, Swain said.

Berry indicated the list could be ready for Town Meeting in the fall.

Dumont backed Swain’s assertion about Town Hall morale, which is foundering even after the corner office change.

“You can feel the tension and the friction,” she said. “That’s a concern.”

She’s also concerned about grants the town may be eligible for but isn’t getting.

Dumont said grant-writing was one of the skills Berry was hired for and she hoped he’d start working on it soon.

In conclusion, Dumont asked Berry to prepare daily reports for the board, sketching Town Hall activities, including problems. “Not to micro-manage…just so we know what’s going on,” she said.

Now it was Deveau’s turn.

“We’re all aware of evaluations (for Berry) that only two of us approved,” he said. “I used a narrative.” Dumont and Swain used the Personnel Board form.

While he agrees with the “numerical format” that rates performance on a scale and in categories, he objects to the overall format, which doesn’t fit the CAO’s job, he said.

He presented a “first stab” outline of what the CAO’s goals and objectives should be.

In his view, the change in title from town administrator to CAO means much more than slapping a new banner on the same old job.

Documenting his case, Deveau later handed out copies of Berry’s contract, the CAO’s job description and an August, 2010 memo from then-transitional manager Ron Marchetti that spells out roles and relationships between the selectmen and the CAO, noting that the documents were previously signature-approved by all three selectmen.

Another handout was a color-coded organizational chart showing every board and department in town government aligned in six categories: Public Safety, Inspectional Services, Public Services, Finance, Administration and Education, with “Voters of Shirley” at the top of the structure.

“There’s nothing new here,” he said, just a “more efficient” layout.

To begin with, Berry was hired for his “planning abilities,” Deveau said, not to be a traditional town administrator.

Deveau listed six items he considers top priority.

First, to develop a strategic, sustainable plan, at least a skeleton of which he hopes to have on the table by October.

The plan must have financial and organizational components and be aimed at “making our community sustainable,” he said, which ultimately means matching revenues and expenses. And even departments not under the selectmen’s jurisdiction must be included in the plan, which will spell out economic development initiatives and draw in resources from outside groups.

The plan will identify cost-savings options, shared resources and services. “I won’t say regionalized,” he said. The regional Devens Dispatch Center, however, is one of the resources that the town should keep a close eye on once it’s operating.

Deveau said a successful management plan must also address staff turnover.

“You said you saw this as a two-term position for you,” he said to Berry. So the plan should sketch out a transition scheme a future board can turn to six years down the road.

Deveau assigned percentages to each category, like those assigned to an academic grade and based on priority. Team management is in there, but low on the list, just 10 percent of the performance review.

Fifteen percent would be based on “major accomplishments” versus goals and objectives. “We should be able to see forward direction” on projects such as the Main Street bridge,” he said.

Finally, he assigned just five percent to educational development. “You are duly qualified already,” Deveau said, noting Berry’s Master’s degree in planning.

Deveau said he had set up “an entirely different rating system” with a total score of 300. “I recommend this as a first step to guide you,” he said.

His request of the board was to consider the case he presented with an eye to adopting the new evaluation procedure. But he didn’t call for a vote.

He did ask that “we reaffirm” the three documents – job description, contract and Marchetti’s memo – he handed out at that point.

“All I can say is I’d want copies of all this…” Dumont said, and time to go over them. .

Although he’s been passionate about this subject when the board debated it before, Deveau didn’t seem perturbed this time. “I don’t expect a motion this evening,” he said.

Undoubtedly, the issue will come up again at a future meeting.

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