While the story of the year in Winthrop was the passage of an historic Proposition 2 ½ override vote during the worst financial crisis in generations (see related story this page), the role that Interim Town Manager Larry Holmes may have been just as important.
Early in 2009, the town of Winthrop was entering a crisis. Not only were the state and national economies in freefall, with everyday bringing seemingly worse financial news, but locally the Town Council was divided and the town’s first Town Manager under the new charter, Rick White, was leaving for the same job on Cape Cod.
Though White arguably had burned a number of his bridges during his time in Winthrop, and made some enemies, there was still some concern around town about who would lead the town during the budget season, and at a time when state aid was being cut. By early January, local officials already knew that Governor Deval Patrick was going to exercise his chapter 9C powers and cut local aid to Winthrop and the 351 other cities and town in the Commonwealth.
Winthrop had also just completed a fairly difficult state audit, and was found to be woefully in debt. Police officers, and firefighters were being cut and when Council President Thomas Reilly tapped Larry Holmes to step in and be the Interim Town Manager, while at the same time enlisting the services of the Edward Collins Center at UMass Boston to help with a new town manager search, most people expected that the likeable Holmes would be a caretaker.
Indeed, in Reilly’s own statements announcing Holmes’ appointment as Interim Town Manager, Reilly noted that ‘no major decisions would be made during Holmes’ tenure,’ so as to make sure the incoming manager would have the opportunity to impact the budget once the permanent replacement was found.
In contrast to those statements, Holmes oversaw a six-month period during which the town first announced it would close the library and senior center, laid off its police chief (David Goldstein) and passed the override, all in the interest of balancing the town budget.
Holmes, who for decades has been a well-known businessman in town and currently serves as the town’s veterans agent, probably didn’t know exactly what he was getting himself into when he agreed to serve as Interim Town Manager.
However, as with many of the tasks he had taken on in his life, he stepped up to the challenge and did his best on behalf of the town.
“The funny thing is, that looking back on the time I spent as Interim Town Manager, I really enjoyed it,” said Holmes. “We were facing some very serious challenges – the closing of the library, the senior center, laying off the police chief – they were tough decisions and I didn’t like being the one to recommend any of them, but at the same time it was strangely energizing.”
Holmes said when he first agreed to accept the position, he worried that, at his age, he would find the job difficult or tiring.
“But, I realized how important the things we were doing were to the town, and that made it something that I wanted to do.”
About overseeing the town government during the passage of the override, Holmes said he feels that enlisting Richard Honan (see related story) and attracting the volunteers of the Winthrop Cares group were major reasons for the votes’ passage.
“But people laughed when we said we were going to go for an override,” recalled Holmes. “With the state of the economy, and all the bad news that was going around, nobody thought we could get it passed. But the volunteers worked very hard to get the word out, we were able to show people exactly which services they would save by voting in favor of the different questions and we made it work.”
“It cost each and every homeowner in town a good piece of change to vote in favor of the override, but I think people saw that we were trying to do the right thing, and they understood how bad things were,” he said. “I look back at my time as interim town manager with a lot of pride, but my like my mother always said ‘self-praise is no praise at all.”
“I was humbled to be asked to be interim town manager by Tom Reilly,” said Holmes. “But, I was proud that they asked me to help my town. I’ve done a lot of different jobs in my life. But of all the things I’ve done and all the jobs I’ve had including starting his own business I 1968, this was the time in my life when I really felt I had accomplished something important, and I was thrilled to be able to do it.”