By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.
In January 2006 the town of Winthrop, beset with mounting financial problems and a beleaguered voting public unwilling to dig deeper into its pockets for more tax revenue, began a new era in local government. The new town charter, which established a nine-member Town Council and a professional administrative manager, took effect on January 1, 2006, but a problematic search process for the town’s first Town Manager left the new government without its executive for a full three months.
At the beginning of April, Richard White, a veteran municipal manager who had served for 17 years as Lexington’s Town Manager, in addition to serving in several other communities over a 25 year career.
At the time of his appointment, there was both a sense of optimism and a trace of unease with White, as local residents wondered if White, an outsider, would be able to understand and work with the unique and dynamic political and community groups in town.
With a year under his belt and several controversial issues now behind him, we asked several people around town what they thought of White’s first year as Town Manager in Winthrop. Here is what they had to say.
Council President Thomas Reilly – has been a supporter of White almost since interviewing the Town Manager in February 2006.
“ I think we’re in about as good a shape as we could’ve expected after one year,” said Reilly. “I think some of the benefits that people thought would occur from the change in government are easily observable. The decision making process is now in one clear entity and on a day to day basis, (White’s) management style has been extremely helpful.”
Reilly also noted that White, stepped into the role as Town Manager with less than one month to prepare a balanced budget proposal for the 2007 fiscal year.
“His experience has been helpful to us as we try work through the growing pains,” said Reilly. “That is especially true in the finance area, where he has done a great deal to get our town finances under control and given us a road map for how to succeed going forward.”
“I’m happy with his performance. I think it has worked out and he’s doe a very good job for us. He has taken an organization that in large part existed as separate entities and molded them into an organization that has been able to take advantage of the new (government) structure,” added Reilly. “That has as much to do with the people working under him, but I think (White) has a style that allowed him to bring all of those separate groups together. In some ways they were precluded from that in the past, but the previous form of government.”
Planning Board Chairman Richard Dimes – was a member of the charter commission that wrote the new charter, but he opposed the charter change. Dimes maintained that while the town needed a Town manager, he did not believe the town needed to replace the Town Meeting with the new Town Council.
“I didn’t think we should change the whole system (of government),” said Dimes. “But I think that he is doing a good job.”
“In running the community on a daily basis, he has been very cooperative with the Planning Board, he has worked with us in streamlining Planning Board processes ad getting us more assistance. I don’t see any drawbacks with the guy, I think he’s a plus.”
Alex Mavrakos – has been a vocal opponent of proposition 2 1/2 overrides, increased government spending and also was a strong advocate for a change in government in town. Mavrakos, as founder and president of Citizens for Fair and Balanced Government, continues to advocate for smaller government and more citizen participation in governmental process.
“When our group pushed for change, I don’t think we expected anybody to be able to come into town and make drastic change right away,’ said Mavrakos. “I think we’re more pleasantly surprised with what is happening in town, than we anticipated. I still don’t agree with him on some issues, but he’s done a good job of taking control of town government and moving us in the right direction.”
School Committeeman Gus Martucci – was a member of the Town Manager Search Committee and serves o the School Committee. As a member of search committee, Martucci voted against including White’s name as a finalist for the job.
“I’m very happy with the way he’s gotten things going,” said Martucci. “I think he’s taken things relatively slowly, understanding that Winthrop is a small town and the charter change was an enormous change for many people. I think he understands that about the town, better than I thought he would.”
“I like his style, the way he does things,” added Martucci. “When I voted against him, I recognized that he had the experience and knowledge we looking for, but I didn’t think he’d be the right fit, but he’s absolutely the right fit and I’m glad that I was wrong.”
Martucci also noted that White’s inclusive approach to dealing with the schools during the budget process has resulted in a “more than fair” treatment of the schools given the town’s continuing fiscal problems.
“I think there are some people who obviously are not happy with him, but that would be the case no matter who you had in there,’ said Martucci. “It’s like with President (George) Bush. Some people love him, and some people hate him, it is the nature of the position.”
Martucci did note that he did not personally know anyone who has expressed dissatisfaction with White.
Chamber of Commerce President Trudy Macero – As a first year Chamber President Macero took the reins of the local business group just prior to White’s arrival at a time when several business owners were expressing dissatisfaction with the local government.
“It was clear in our first meeting that he had an understanding of how important a successful business community is to the town,” said Macero. “Since the he has made himself available to us on a monthly basis for our board meetings. I’ve been very impressed with his knowledge, experience and approachability. I think that as a whole, there hasn’t been anything within our board or membership that has been negative about him.”
Macero also pointed to White’s recommendation to the Town Council that the town do away with the split-tax rate, as a sign that he understands the unique business climate in Winthrop as well.
“Although he has a number of large issues that he is taking care of with the Council, he’s always ready to listen to the smallest of issues and having someone paying attention to those details is something that the town has needed for a long time and the Chamber looks forward to working with him in the future.”