Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
"Meet the new boss: Kevin O'Donnell: New town manager ready to roll"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, September 23, 2008
GREAT BARRINGTON — New Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell wants you — and everyone else for that matter — to help mold the town's future.
O'Donnell, who moved from Wisconsin to Great Barrington earlier this month and began work on Sept. 15, took part in his first Board of Selectmen meeting at Town Hall last night. In an interview before that meeting yesterday, he said he plans to focus on defining the goals of the town and achieving them in an open and honest way.
"We're doing the people's business," said O'Donnell. "Let's be transparent. Let's be responsive to what the people need."
O'Donnell said he wants to hold two or three yearly public meetings to discuss what he calls a "strategic planning process," focusing on the town's goals and acknowledging what is, or isn't, being done to attain them.
"Instead of saying we can't do it, try to look at ways that we can address it," O'Donnell said.
He also hopes to get more voices involved in the direction of the town, stepping back and embracing creative ways to solve problems.
"I want to get people involved, and you don't do that by micro-managing," he added.
With 33 years of experience, O'Donnell said he is well-equipped to achieve the changes he is looking for.
"We're not dealing with anything here that I haven't dealt with before," he said, noting that he has worked in towns of a similar size and with similar tourism-based economies.
O'Donnell said that after working in several towns that were in a state of transition, he is pleased to be working in a place with a more established identity.
"(Great Barrington) appeared to be pretty stable and had a strong charter," said O'Donnell, about what attracted him to the town.
O'Donnell resigned from his position as town administrator in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., earlier this year after being stuck in the middle of a town government that was split on the direction for its future.
"It was a fragmented board. There was a lot of micro-managing and it became a difficult situation. Unfortunately, that happens in this business."
O'Donnell doesn't see that being a problem here, as he is working within a defined role.
"The town manager has a lot of operational authority, which is helpful."
O'Donnell was approved by a 4-to-1 vote of the Selectmen in August, with the only opposition coming from board member Margaret Beckwith. And while Beckwith voted for another candidate, she said she is confident in O'Donnell's ability.
"I feel like I can work very well with him," she said.
As far as specific plans, O'Donnell said it would be presumptuous to assume he knows what is best for the town after less than a month in office, but he did identify some areas that need improvement: "I think we need to address our infrastructure. Some of the roads need a little bit of work, as well as the street signage and the maintenance of public facilities."
In addition, O'Donnell said it might be time to consider updating some town operations. "Things have changed. What was good 50 or 60 years ago might not be the best way to operate today."
And while O'Donnell said he hopes to help improve the town's infrastructure, he is quick to point out that the town board — not the manager — sets the agenda.
"I'm trying to work with people, but at the same time I have to carry out the responsibilities of the town board."
For now, O'Donnell is still getting settled into his new job and his new home.
"It's been great. The people have been very welcoming," O'Donnell said.
He has purchased a home and said he is invested in the future of the community, hoping to stay at the job for about 10 years.
"I'm living here, I'm paying taxes here. I want to make this the best place possible," he said.
"Project extension sought"
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, January 13, 2009
GREAT BARRINGTON — Battered by the economy, the developers of the Searles/Bryant Middle School property are apparently trying to negotiate another extension of the deadline for taking control of the site.
The board dropped a few hints about the situation following an executive session at which Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell updated the Selectmen on several aspects of the project.
O'Donnell said the town plans to stand firm on the latest deadline, which is Feb. 24, but that Berkshire Development Partners, citing a sluggish economy, is suggesting the project be put off.
"That may be their position, but as of (last) night, we have made no concession in that area," said O'Donnell.
Selectman Chairman Walter F. Atwood III agreed, noting that, in addition to a final date in which the developers will take control of the property, the town is also negotiating passing along some of the costs of maintaining the building. This would include heat, electricity and plowing and other costs.
The company is planning to develop the site into a residential complex that would include 13 town-houses on the north end of the site, as well as affordable units, other retail spaces, a canoe and kayak landing and a seasonal restaurant.
At this point, the town is anxious that the project go forward, Atwood said.
This is the second major capital project in town that is struggling financially. On Thursday night, the Planning Board unanimously denied a Form A application from a consortium of New York City-based developers for the development of the Great Barrington Fairgrounds.
The fairgrounds development team, which has already purchased the South Main Street property, is presently in a little deeper than Berkshire Development Partners, which has not closed on Searles/Bryant. The New York team, F Group LLC, owes almost $60,000 in back taxes and has not paid its engineers.
Thus, the lethargic economy has clearly been an obstacle to both development groups. But in the case of Searles/Bryant, the stakes are higher, as the town is eager to get its hands on the $1.3 million offered for the property by the developers.
On March 18, the Selectmen voted unanimously to approve a plan for developing the Searles/Bryant complex. Berkshire Development Partners, a consortium of local and out-of-town development professionals, had convinced the board that their primarily housing-based plan would be successful.
This was not a specifically popular decision, as a small but vocal group favored a second plan, called the Riverschool Development. That proposal was a more retail-oriented option that included an anchor tenant, Iredale Cosmetics.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
"Properties' care costly: Hopes dim for sale of 3 sites"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, January 29, 2009
GREAT BARRINGTON — The floundering Searles/Bryant school complex sale and the current recession don't bode well for the sales of two other soon-to-be vacated town properties — potentially costing the town thousands in tax revenue and maintenance expenses.
At the 2007 annual town meeting, voters approved selling Searles/Bryant and two other properties that will become vacant by year's end — the former Dewey School on Gilmore Avenue and the current fire station on Castle Street. The three properties are currently assessed at more than $5.25 million but — because the town still owns them — are not paying property taxes. If the buildings remain unsold, they could cost the town hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance next year as well.
"The economy started to go south, and I think everybody is doing the whole hunkering down thing," said Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell. "Is it going to prove more challenging (to sell the properties)? Yeah, but at the same token things still happen, transitions are still going on."
The former Dewey School, which is currently leased on a month-to-month basis by the Southern Berkshire District Court, will be vacated later this year when the court moves to its new location in Lee. The property is currently assessed at $1.4 million; at the town's current tax rate of $11.36 per $1,000 of property value, it would bring in an additional $16,279 of property tax revenue.
The fire station, which will be vacated as early as October when the Fire Department moves to its new location on Route 7, is currently valued at just over $1 million, would bring an additional $11,638 in property tax revenue.
Berkshire Development Partners, which had planned to develop Searles/Bryant as a residential and retail complex, has an extended deadline of Feb. 24 to take control of the property. Despite the town's desire for the sale to go forward, it appears the developers are looking to delay any deal. The property is assessed at $2.8 million and would bring in $31,746 under the current property tax rate.
But it is unlikely, in the current economic situation, that the town will sell those properties near their assessed valued. The Searles/Bryant developers' highest offer, for example, was $1.3 million — or less than half of the assessed value.
"Value is difficult," said O'Donnell, noting that the town is currently looking at what it could expect for the Dewey school and fire station.
O'Donnell said the town plans to request proposals from potential buyers in the spring. They are currently working on the specifics of what those requests will entail, and will pay particular attention to the type of business interested in buying the parcels.
Despite the odds being against possible developer interest in the current economy, O'Donnell said putting these properties up for sale is still the best option.
"It gives us some opportunity that we didn't have before to put those properties on the tax roll," he said.
If the buildings remain vacant though, there will be a heavy cost to the town. With the addition of the former Housatonic School, which is also vacant, the town could be looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain those properties for fiscal 2010, according to O'Donnell.
He said the town is looking at alternatives to cut costs, including taking advantage of an energy audit through the lieutenant governor's office. O'Donnell said while that could provide savings, those options could prove more difficult in older buildings like these.
Another option would be to "mothball" the facilities if they remain vacant, which would save funds without damaging the internal building.
That, however, would not be an option for the Searles/Bryant building, as the People's Pantry and Sustainable Sources currently occupying the facilities.
To reach Trevor Jones: (413) 528-3660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"First river access point nears start"
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, February 23, 2009
GREAT BARRINGTON — An official for the Housatonic Valley Association said he hopes ground will be broken within a few months for the first of five new canoe/kayak access sites along the Housatonic River.
Dennis Regan, the Berkshire program director with the Housatonic Valley Association, added that while the access ramp abuts the Searles/Bryant complex off Bridge Street, he did not foresee any negative impact on the construction timeline now that the developers of the school complex have withdrawn their offer.
"It would have been nice to have something there, but our project won't be affected," he said. The Searles access site is on town-owned land adjacent to the Housatonic River, he said.
Last week, the would-be developers of the Searles/Bryant school complex declined to exercise their offer to purchase the site, citing a slowed economy.
The canoe/kayak project was made possible, said Regan, by funds provided by the Natural Resources Trustees as part of the PCB settlement with General Electric. According to the Housatonic Valley Association, the trustees received $15 million from GE for natural resource restoration projects. A total of $7.5 million will be made available to the state of Connecticut, with the other $7.5 million slated for Massachusetts.
The Housatonic Valley Association is also working with the Town of Great Barrington and the Great Barrington Land Conservancy on the project.
The proposed access site project was one of three project proposals submitted by the Housatonic Valley Association and approved by the NRD Trustees.
The other two projects to be funded include the completion of the Old Mill Trail, a riverside walking trail connecting Hinsdale and Dalton and the creation of the Housatonic Environmental Literacy Program, or HELP. The HELP is a three-year school program for communities along the Housatonic River watershed. The Housatonic Valley Association and the Massachusetts Audubon Society are partners in the program, which teaches watershed basics and provides field and canoe trips for students for hands-on educational experience.
Regan explained that there are presently four access sites to the river in Berkshire County. They are at Boardman Street in Great Barrington, Park Street in Stockbridge, Mary Decker launch at New Lenox Road in Lee, and Fred Garner Park in Pittsfield.
"One of the main questions we get from people is, 'How do we get onto the river? Where do we go?'" said Regan. "We see more access points as a high need. The existing sites are great, but they are heavily used."
The Housatonic Valley Association is also in the process of applying for permits to develop access areas at the Sheffield Covered bridge, the Lee Athletic Fields, the Woods Pond Pedestrian route in Lenox, and Wahconah Park in Pittsfield.
The cost of construction of each of the five sites will average about $100,000 per site, said Regan.
"Great Barrington hires its first town planner"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Sunday, March 01, 2009
GREAT BARRINGTON — Chris Rembold was hired as the town planner last week, filling a position created at last year's annual town meeting.
Rembold said his biggest priorities will be updating the town's master plan, planning the redevelopment of several key sites, supporting the business district and adhering to the goals of the selectmen and residents.
Rembold, who is originally from a similar town in southwest New York and has lived in Great Barrington for two years, said he is excited to be a part of navigating the town's future.
"It's a town that I very much want to see well-planned and succeed in the long run," Rembold said. "I'm happy to be part of it."
Rembold has a bachelor's degree in environmental science and a master's in urban planning. He has also worked as a consultant in municipal planning, working on master plans, affordable housing and other special projects.
His hiring comes at a time when the town is under fire for the handling of a number of vacant, or soon-to-be vacant properties, they own — including the Searles/Bryant complex whose $1.3 million sale fell through in February.
Rembold said the key sites that need to be looked at for long-term redevelopment are the Searles buildings, the New England Log Home Homes property and the court house which will be vacated when the Southern Berkshire District Court moves to Lee.
Rembold said good planning means meeting the needs of businesses and the environment.
"As a planner you have to balance environmental and economic concerns, and hopefully you can achieve both goals," he said.
Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell said he was impressed with Rembold's concerns for the environment.
"I thought he'd be a good fit in the organization," he said. "I think he's got a good sensitivity to the environment."
O'Donnell said he was excited to have Rembold hired, but that one person is not a cure-all.
"People have got to remember one town planer is not a panacea," said O'Donnell. "We're assembling a strong management staff and Chris is just one more key component of that."
To reach Trevor Jones: (413) 528-3660 or email@example.com.
"Town's problems in next aisle over"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Alan Chartock lives in Great Barrington and is one of the many famous people he mentions in his column who shop at Guido's.
I have nothing against Guido's, it is a fine store run by great people, but I myself enjoy shopping at Price Chopper where the little people shop.
Often, I get help putting my groceries in the car from the sweet young people who move the carts in the parking lot. I also think their food is also of the best quality, at prices one can afford. Also, one can get a discount on their gasoline by shopping there. However, I feel Alan Chartock, as our famous columnist living here in Great Barrington, should be writing about more important subjects in Great Barrington such as the mess our town is in. Among the issues: Town officials who have most certainly not used good judgment in encouraging the taxpayers to build million-dollar schools with the promise the increase in taxes would amount to cups of coffee; the special-interest groups who always make sure to change a vote after many who voted think their vote counted have gone home.
Also, we have loads of empty town buildings waiting to be sold. So-called buyers who never paid for the Searles property, and after letting the town hold the bag for many months without paying and closing the deal recently, they decided they'd changed their mind, and now the town is left in one big financial mess. We will have many more empty buildings while other new ones are going up, costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. We have most unfair sewer charges. A household of one person pays the same as a household with even eight persons using the sewer.
The power of the press is terrific at bringing attention to the many serious issues of the day, and helping to correct many. Due to the fact when they are brought to the attention of the public, many crooked practices are corrected.
Yes, when I shop for food, I go to the Price Chopper or the Big Y, and when I come home I make a nice cup of tea with plenty of food for thought such as the nonsense of Alan Chartock's column, "Guido's is the place that gets it right."
OLGA MAY MILLIGAN
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
"Magadini routed again in recount for town position"
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, June 5, 2009
GREAT BARRINGTON — To almost no one's surprise, incumbent town Moderator Edward G. McCormick retained his seat following a recount Thursday afternoon at Town Hall.
With three of four precincts counted, McCormick had still defeated challenger David Magadini's write-in candidacy by a landslide, 476 to 26, with 16 other write-ins and 190 blanks.
Only three of the four precincts were counted because Magadini did not turn in the proper paperwork to get the ballots counted in Precinct B, which is Housatonic.
Both Magadini and McCormick had the right to have a total of six witnesses each at the recount. Neither had any. McCormick, who probably wasn't too worried, was not in attendance.
After his shellacking was reaffirmed, Magadini was gracious.
"I appreciate you doing this," he said to the six recorders and counters, as well as the three Registrars of Voters. "This is democracy at its best. You did the job conscientiously and fairly."
Magadini explained that "people have the right to petition their government for redress. I would like to encourage more people to participate in town meetings and take the time to know and understand the rules of order."
He congratulated McCormick for his victory.
"I wish him well," said Magadini, before donning his five overcoats and picking up his bags of personal items. Magadini lists his home address as a town-owned park. Things weren't as affable in the early going. Assistant Town Clerk Linda Coons told Magadini that he could not wear a microphone while standing behind the counters and recorders. Only the candidates or their representatives were allowed with the counting personnel, she said.
Town Clerk Marie Ryan asked Magadini to remove the microphone, which had been provided by Community Television of Southern Berkshire.
"We can't have microphones in the counting area," she said.
"I know of no law requiring me to remove this," said Magadini.
"David, just take it off," said Ryan. "If you want, I'll help you."
"What, are you going to have me arrested?" said Magadini.
"No, but I can have you removed, and you won't be able to witness the recount," she said.
As a compromise, Ryan allowed Magadini to leave the microphone on a chair in the audience section.
There were only a handful challenges to the votes, most of them brought forward by the counters themselves. In one instance, the write-in vote was for "Paul Magadini," and the Registrars ruled that it was not a vote for David Magadini. In a second instance, the vote was for "Magadini: Stanley." The Registrars ruled the ballot was for David Magadini, and that the voter was indicating that the Magadini in question lived in Stanley Park.
After the ballots were counted, Magadini requested that the voting machines be examined to make sure their numeric tally corresponded with the number of votes cast. He then asked Ryan to take the street lists out and tally the number of votes cast with the number of voters listed as casting votes on the street lists. In both cases, the numbers matched up exactly.
Town officials estimated the recount cost taxpayers about $200.
Residents enjoy living in the town of Great Barrington, which was named one of the best 15 small towns in New England by Boston magazine. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Great Barrington named a top town"
By Derek Gentile, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, September 29, 2009
GREAT BARRINGTON, Massachusetts -- The plethora of restaurants and the eclectic mix of businesses on Railroad Street helped land the town on a list of the "15 Best Small Towns in New England."
The story hits the streets in today's Boston magazine, according to Matthew Watkins, a spokesman for the publication.
"[The magazine] was looking for uniqueness in each community," said Watkins.
Great Barrington is the only Berkshire County town on the list, and it joins Harvard and Shelburne Falls as three Massachusetts towns in the top 15.
Three towns each in New Hampshire, Connecticut and Vermont, and two towns in Maine and one in Rhode Island rounded out the rest of the "best small towns."
In the cover story, Great Barrington is home to the Berkshires' own "restaurant row," which includes a cheesemonger (Rubiner's), an old-time general store (Gorham and Norton's), and a co-op market (the Berkshire Co-Op) all within a few blocks of each other.
"Yet the real allure of Great Barrington is Railroad Street," the magazine concludes. The street has "enough culinary delights to fill a weekend visit from beginning to end."
The magazine is obviously referring to a block with an award-winning breakfast spot (Martin's), an award-winning Japanese restaurant (Bizen), a well-regarded "New American" restaurant (Allium), one of the top ice cream restaurants in the country (Soho) and the recently revived 20 Railroad Street, one of the most popular lunch spots in town.
"This is a real organic town," said Robert Navarino, a spokesman for the Downtown Merchants Association, and the owner of the Chef Shop, a kitchen appliance store on Railroad Street.
"With only a few exceptions, the downtown features a lot of locally owned, independent businesses," he said. "The downtown area in particular is sophisticated and utterly unique."
Navarino opined that Railroad Street stood out because "there is not a single chain store on the street. Wherever you go in this country, you see the same stores in every town. When you come to Great Barrington, you see a downtown that doesn't look like any other town in the country. And when you come onto Railroad Street, you see something very unlike the rest of the world.
"Our downtown meets and often exceeds what you see in a lot of other downtowns. That ‘cookie-cutter' sameness that you see in a lot of downtowns is not here in Great Barrington."
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
"Charter school clears hurdle: The proposal was among eight selected across the state to enter the next phase of consideration."
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Thursday, October 1, 2009
GREAT BARRINGTON -- A proposed South County charter school could be approved by early next year after its organizers were asked to submit a full application to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Housatonic River Charter School is being proposed as an alternative for students, grades 7 through 12, in the Berkshire Hills, Lee, Lenox and Southern Berkshire school districts in an undetermined location here. The plan calls for a maximum enrollment of 240 students, and, according to papers submitted to the DOE, will be a college-preparatory school featuring an emphasis on arts and environmental studies.
"We have an area rich in artistic, creative people. We intend to tap that resource," said Bill Dunsay, one of the founding members of the Housatonic River proposal, and a former South County teacher of 33 years. "We also know that this is a forward-thinking, green set of communities. ... So we are looking to have an environmental science background to the school as well."
Fourteen charter school proposals throughout the state were recently submitted to the DOE, and Housatonic River was one of eight that passed the first round of consideration.
From here, a much more rigorous process begins, with a full application required by Nov. 13, followed by interviews with the Charter School Office, a public hearing in the proposed area and the acceptance of any written comments to the department. A final recommendation would likely come in February.
While Dunsay pointed to problems with elevated dropout rates and drug use among students at some local schools, he said the proposal is not a pointed criticism of them.
"Our viewpoint of starting a charter school has been [that] it's not to take away from another school, it's to provide something that isn't there," Dunsay said, noting a desire to engage students through hands-on work, testing hypothesis and solving local problems.
But some local school administrators say there are enough alternatives in the area already.
"I admire what they're trying to do, but I would also very much like to think that among the public schools, that we can serve every child that resides here in a really high fashion," said Jason McCandless, Superintendent of the Lee School District.
If approved, the Housatonic River Charter School would become the county's second. The Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams, opened in 2004, has approximately 246 middle and high school students drawn primarily from North Adams, Adams, and Pittsfield.
One of the biggest concerns about charter schools is the funding other schools lose when a student opts for the charter school. But Dunsay defended the proposal, saying students are already opting for other local schools.
McCandless said the funding is a concern, but other issues like accountability measures and undeserving the needs of certain members of the community persist.
"What I'm most concerned with is parents having options that best serve their kids," said McCandless. "I am far from convinced though, from the data I've seen so far, that charter schools in Massachusetts are providing the best alternative for families."
To reach Trevor Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 528-3660.
"Town manager O'Donnell fails evaluation"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, September 17, 2011
GREAT BARRINGTON -- The Board of Selectmen have given Town Manager Kevin O’Donnell the equivalent of a failing grade, opening questions about his future as the town’s chief administrator.
O’Donnell received an employee evaluation grade of 67 out of a possible 125, the equivalent of 53.6 percent. The evaluation survey, filled out by the Selectmen, included the categories of management, supervision and leadership, technical competence, customer satisfaction, and advise and information. O’Donnell’s lowest score was in customer service, where he received 10 points out of a possible 25.
O’Donnell left on Friday for a weeklong conference. He plans to respond to the board when he returns.
"We have a score which is obviously fairly low and we’re going to give Kevin an opportunity to respond to it," said Sean Stanton, chairman of the Board of Selectmen.
Stanton declined to comment on O’Donnell’s job security.
"We all need to do a lot of work to make sure the town is run as effectively and efficiently as possible -- both the town manager and the selectmen," Stanton said.
Individual selectmen’s surveys were not made public, and Stanton declined to comment on O’Donnell’s performance beyond saying, "he’s very capable with a lot of things. Other things he struggles with."
O’Donnell’s only response to interview inquiries from The Eagle was sent via email: "New board, new direction, new challenges. I will develop mechanisms to enhance communication with the board to the manager and the manager to the board."
O’Donnell came under fire earlier this week from the board. Members expressed frustration with the search for a new library director, and the Selectmen voted to direct O’Donnell to appoint an interim director immediately and stripped him of his authority to convene the search for a permanent director.
Walter "Buddy" Atwood III, who was a selectman until May, submitted a survey, while Andrew Blechman, who took Atwood’s seat, didn’t fill out a survey citing his limited time on the board.
Atwood chaired the board when O’Donnell was hired in 2008. He defended O’Donnell’s performance, saying he’s done well in the day-to-day management of the town and questioned if the current board may be putting too much on his plate.
"He’s done an excellent job," Atwood said.
Results of O’Donnell’s previous reviews, which are believed to be positive, and copies of his employee contract were not immediately available.
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"O'Donnell eyeing new approach"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, October 2, 2011
GREAT BARRINGTON -- In the wake of a poor performance review, Town Manager Kevin O’Donnell returned to Town Hall this week saying he is refreshed and ready to make changes in order to adapt to the board’s current composition.
"My commitment to this town is deeper than ever," O’Donnell told The Eagle. "I live here; I intend to stay here. I’m enthusiastic about being town manager."
Earlier this month O’Donnell received a grade of 67 out of a possible 125 on his annual performance review by the Board of Selectmen, the equivalent of 53.6 percent. O’Donnell’s lowest scores were in customer service, where he received 10 points, and advice and information, where he received 11 points. Both categories allowed for a maximum score of 25.
O’Donnell returned to work on Monday following a weeklong trip to Milwaukee, where he attended the annual conference of the International City/County Management Association. At the meeting, O’Donnell said, he focused on sessions relating to communication between boards and managers.
O’Donnell said he intends to improve the two-way communication process through more updates. And while some of those efforts will be subtle, others will be more obvious, including more frequent updates on major projects.
"I’ll still manage the day-to-day operations, but I will bring the board in for legitimate policy input, and it will show to the public that the board and manager are working together," said O’Donnell.
O’Donnell said he has come back with a "renewed vigor and enthusiasm," and that appeared to be evident at two public sessions with the board this week, where the usually curt and formal O’Donnell was more vocal and quicker to offer advice.
O’Donnell acknowledged he "could have handled things better" leading up to the review, and called it a "wake-up call" in regard to how the make up of the board has changed in the last two years.
"Frankly, I took my eye off the ball," said O’Donnell.
In his six-month and one-year reviews, O’Donnell’s scores were equivalent to grades of 90 percent and 84 percent, respectively. He signed a new three-year contract in April 2010.
O’Donnell said he didn’t view any of the board’s issues as "unrepairable," and didn’t take the review as an opening for his ouster as the town’s chief administrator.
"I have no impression otherwise," said O’Donnell. "They want to see me make adjustments."
On Friday, O’Donnell sent board members a memo outlining some of the changes he is interested in making.
Sean Stanton, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said it’s "great that Kevin is willing to work with us," adding the board intends to sit down with O’Donnell. But Stanton wouldn’t comment on whether O’Donnell’s job is in jeopardy or if members will simply seek some adjustments from him.
"It’s up to the board," said Stanton. "It’s a process we have to go through and I don’t want to sacrifice, or jeopardize the board’s position as a five-member body by telling you what I think is going to happen."
Stanton said there are a number of issues that have to be resolved. Chief among them, he said, is figuring out where responsibilities lie with town operations and ironing out discrepancies in the town charter and town code.
If the board were to seek O’Donnell’s removal, it would require a vote of three or more members, which would be followed by a written public resolution, a potential hearing at O’Donnell’s request, and a final resolution requiring four or more votes.
If the board were to fire O’Donnell, he would be owed a lump sum payment equivalent to six months pay and benefits. O’Donnell’s salary in the current fiscal year is $99,555.
To reach Trevor Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 528-3660.
"Great Barrington formally votes out Town Manager O'Donnell"
By Adam Poulisse, Berkshire Eagle, September 25, 2012
GREAT BARRINGTON -- Despite the clear opposition of some town residents, the Great Barrington Select Board voted 4-1 to not renew Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell's contract after it expires in April.
Residents filled the seats and lined the walls inside and outside Monday night's meeting, and the Selectmen listened to about a dozen people take to the microphone at the front of the room. Many scolded the board for the decision that hadn't even been voted on yet, using words like "abomination" to describe the possibility of not renewing O'Donnell's contract.
O'Donnell, who has served as the town manager since 2009, has received unfavorable marks on his past two evaluations.
"This action is more common than you think," Selectwoman Deb Phillips said to the packed room during the meeting. "How the board handles some things is not confident with how the town manager handles it. He's done some great things, this isn't to demean him."
Selectman Stephen Banon was the only one who voted in opposition of not renewing O'Donnell's contract.
"As with any units, we're going to disagree sometimes, but the timing really tips the scale," he said.
Andy Moro was the first to speak, and noted his opposition, saying their decision was personal, and that the town should see the "resignation of the whole board."
"I'm on the Finance Committee, and I'd like to where they're going to get the money for the search," Moro said afterward.
"I still believe it's personal, and elections have consequences. We'll find candidates to put up against these people. It's personal now."
When residents spoke on O'Donnell's behalf -- who was present at the meeting -- they referenced the growth that Great Barrington has seen under O'Donnell's
"Kevin knows a lot of people in the area, and he gets things done," resident Ron Dlugosz said. "The Smith sonian didn't recognize us because we weren't moving forward. They recognized us because we were [moving forward]."
A Great Barrington businessman, Ron Blumenthal had a small book containing about 30 residents' and business owners' signatures that were in favor of the board's decision to not renew O'Don nell's contract. When a member of the audience asked Blumenthal to give specific names of signers, Bluemnthal said some wouldn't go public in fear of being scorned by the public. He was then met with scoffs from most of the audience until a banging gavel shushed them.
"Those that signed believe that the town could function a lot better without Kevin impeding," Blumenthal said afterward. "They support the Selectmen."
From 1999 to 2009, Mary Eastland was the Steward of the Mason Library in Great Barrington, and worked to form a union of library workers.
She said that when she tried to speak to O'Donnell on behalf of a colleague in 2009, O'Donnell stood up, and yelled for her to "sit down and shut up."
She recalled the story during the meeting to the audience, board members and O'Donnell himself.
"You just don't talk to people like that," Eastland said afterward. "He was my boss' boss, but as a woman, he was very hard to work for."
"O'Donnell blasts Great Barrington Selectmen on his way out the door"
By John Sakata, Berkshire Eagle, April 24, 2013
GREAT BARRINGTON -- Departing Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell touted the town's direction, but slammed the current Board of Selectmen in his final week before leaving the position.
O'Donnell's final day managing Town Hall is today after his contract wasn't renewed. Before his departure, O'Donnell called the town's governing board "dysfunctional" and described his relationship with the Selectmen majority as "hell" since 2011.
"I felt I did everything a professional manager could do," O'Donnell said.
O'Donnell was hired by the town in 2009. He associated his difficulty working with the Selectmen with what he called their indecisive decision-making, inability to articulate what they want, and lack of a clear direction. He attributed their decision not to renew his contract to "politics."
"I hate leaving the community, but I understand when the political winds shift they don't have to have good solid reason and the manager goes on."
O'Donnell will be replaced by Jennifer Tabakin, a senior project manager in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration. A contract has not been signed yet, the board's Chairman Sean Stanton said.
Stanton said he was against "airing dirty laundry," but he responded to Tuesday's comments from O'Donnell by stating the board's decision was based on the town manager's refusal to accept accountability for actions and overstepping his role as town manager.
"I don't believe this as an issue of the Board of Selectmen, but the town manager," said Stanton, who added the board was not provided clear and complete information at all times by O'Donnell.
"I don't think this board will have any difficulty with a new town manager," he said.
O'Donnell, 62, said his Great Barrington home is currently on the market and he would consider moving "west" now that he is no longer employed here. He will explore consulting opportunities and interim town manager work.
O'Donnell stated that the town was on a positive footing. He identified a positive bond rating and said the town has developed a five-year capital improvement plan. Hired during the 2009 national recession, he said there have been no layoffs and services have been expanded.
O'Donnell also spoke highly about a multi-million reconstruction project of Main Street, calling it a "good project."
He identified his greatest accomplishment as working with Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh to have the department accredited by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission. "It requires a department to really get its house in order," O'Donnell said.
Stanton and O'Donnell both identified a disagreement from 2011 concerning management of the library as an early source of discord.
Ambiguity in the town charter left it open-ended as to who was in charge of the library.
O'Donnell believed it was under his purview to resolve the answer, but Stanton said this was one of several examples where O'Donnell acted without consulting the Selectmen and overstepped his responsibilities. O'Connell disagreed with that assessment and said he acted based on town counsel's opinion on the matter.
O'Donnell expressed thanks to those who approached him with kind words.
"I am deeply moved and humbled by those who have come up to me to praise my management in the community and expressed sadness about me leaving," O'Donnell said.
"Big Apple to Berkshires: Great Barrington town manager is latest transplant"
By John Sakata, Berkshire Eagle Staff, July 10, 2013
Great Barrington Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin is the latest New Yorker to travel north into the Berkshires for a leadership role. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
GREAT BARRINGTON -- Farewell, Big Apple. Hello, Great Barrington.
When new Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin assumed the full-time duties of town manager last week, she became the latest New Yorker to travel north on Route 22 and embrace a change of lifestyle in Great Barrington that goes beyond a change of scenery with less concrete and more mountains.
"I really think moving here is going to be pretty seamless for me because my parents live here year-round," Tabakin said on her third day on the job.
Great Barrington has long been characterized as a town brimming with New Yorkers. Now, two of the town's largest institutions are being led by former New York public officials that learned their trade in America's biggest city.
Along with Tabakin, Berkshire Hills Regional School District Superintendent Peter Dillon spent nearly two decades in New York City and left as a policy executive for the New York City Department of Education when he came here five years ago. The city school department served 1.1 million children.
Dillon's job responsibilities in New York centered around 300 schools and covered budget, policy and the creation of new schools. The change in scenery in Great Barrington came with a learning curve.
"New York has this incredible energy, but Great Bar rington has a sense of investment and community," Dillon said.
In New York City, he grew accustomed to a bustling public transit system, designing systems to meet the broad needs of a diverse student population, and nights dining on an eclectic selection of food.
However, after 17 years, Dillon was seeking an opportunity to implement lasting change in a community-oriented town, and he found this with his current position in Great Barrington.
Dillon interviewed 200 local people within 90 days of receiving the Berkshire Hills job, and he said "the interconnectiveness is really amazing. It's something that's been really fun."
"Over time, the more I understand the multiple relationships, the more that informs my work," Dillon said.
The prevailing lesson he pulled in New York was a ZIP code shouldn't define a child's future. In Great Barrington, he's appreciative of the time people invest to support their children.
"We are really focused on relationships and there is an area for some growth in systems," Dillon said.
Rich with New York pride
Local real estate agents say New Yorkers are often looking to Great Barrington and its surrounding towns. Some are retirees; others are looking to become second homeowners; and some are looking for investments here.
Real estate agent Kim Wilder, of Barnbrook Real Estate, estimated that 75 percent of its second-home sales are to New York City residents, predominately from Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Wilder points to the opportunity to own land in a culturally vibrant area with a strong agricultural base.
Great Barrington resident Joe Carini made that transition in the late 1970s. He was the child of Italian immigrants raised in Little Italy and he said when he proposed moving he examined neighborhoods within a three-hour driving distance from New York.
"It was the feel of the place and geography and being able to go on Staten Island," Carini said.
Friends back in the city teased Carini about growing "bored" here, but he dismissed the notion and invited them up for skiing, to visit the lakes and embrace the outdoors.
"When I came up here, it was more of a counterculture lifestyle developing," said Carini, who notes that Great Barrington now has more parallels to a larger city.
Great Barrington resident Alan Chartock, known widely as an Eagle columnist and president of WAMC, was born in New York City and lives in Great Barrington. He moved to the Berkshires in his late 20s during the 1970s.
Chartock moved to Alford in 1971 before moving to Great Barrington in 1985. The only neighbor he knew in New York City was the resident across the hall who carried a spare key.
After moving to Alford, he left notes inviting his neighbors to a party and there wasn't a neighbor who didn't want to meet him.
"There's a different way of conducting yourself in New York City," Chartock said. "You might fight over a cab [in the city]. ... Courtesy and decency go a long way here."
His wife, Roselle Chartock, said acts of friendliness can go a long way to someone coming to the area from the city.
"It's important to have the most fun they can and explore everything," she said. "Get a real lay of the land. Really, really read everything you can .... about what's here, visit the museums and go to the activities."
Adjusting to surroundings
On her third day on the job after signing a three-year contract, Tabakin said the transition was going smoothly.
Tabakin earned a master's degree in urban planning from New York University and an executive certificate in construction management in the university's Polytechnic Insti tute in 2001. She worked in New York City's Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. She has previously managed a $280 million East River project and $300 million worth of new city parks.
In her former career as a senior economic development director, Tabakin said her work required "lots and lots of meetings and phone calls and conversations and making sure you pull the right people together to facilitate a right decision and decide a way to go."
A project was normally planned through a flurry of emails, whereas now she's able to gather everyone in a single room.
Tabakin said her top priority will likely be overseeing the renovation of Main Street in Great Barrington. She is still awaiting direction from the Board of Selectmen on strategic planning, but she expressed excitement about building the economy and promoting environmentally sustainable practices. Like so many others, she's intrigued about the availability of a faster fiber-optic Internet line.
There's also a broad range of infrastructure upgrades and environmental and land management issues that intrigue her.
Tabakin, though, has a "best of both worlds" philosophy when she considers Great Barrington and New York City.
"They're both great places," Tabakin said. "They're both places people want to come and visit and live."
"Great Barrington Selectmen approve $27.3 million budget"
By Derek Gentile, The Berkshire Eagle, March 26, 2015
GREAT BARRINGTON - The Selectmen have unanimously approved a $27.3 million municipal and school spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.
The budget represents an overall increase of 3.95 percent, or 61 cents per thousand dollars, on the tax rate, according to Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin. The town's tax rate is $13.72 this year and could go to $14.33.
About 49 percent, or $13.5 million, of the total sum is the town's assessment to the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. The figure represents a jump of 7.2 percent over the current year's spending. The overall Berkshire Hills Regional School District budget, approved by the school committee a few weeks ago, is $24.6 million.
The Selectmen approved the budget Wednesday night.
The school increase nettled some members of the town's Finance Committee. Members Walter Atwood and Thomas A. Blauvelt said that the increase was too steep and did not support that segment of the budget. The other Finance Committee members supported both the school and municipal budget.
The two boards supported the town's operating budget of $10.9 million, up only about $188,000 or 1.76 percent, over this year, an essentially level-funded figure.
For a complete budget overview, go to townofgb.org.
Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251. email@example.com @DerekGentile on Twitter.
"Loss of trees renders downtown unrecognizable"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, March 29, 2015
To the editor:
I write on behalf of the flowering pear trees that were leveled over the past couple of days in Great Barrington.
I know, in a peripheral way, that there has been much debate over the past few years about the downtown renovation. I admit I haven't followed it closely. I write not to judge why decisions were made, ask how, or even to assert that things should have been done differently. I am not in the know of local politics.
But I feel compelled, as an artist deeply connected to and singularly inspired by the Berkshires, to share my opinion of the Main Street renovation occurring in the center of Great Barrington. What I saw as I drove through my town left me feeling saddened, disturbed even.
In my opinion, there is, or was, a perfection in the town centers here. As a photographer, I look for places that exist out of time. I look for an inarticulable quality to architecture that bears the traces of human history. That, combined with the people who inhabit a place, it's natural elements, all add up to its mood, its aura, its visual character. This is a valuable quality, and fragile. It's easily disturbed.
I did not recognize Great Barrington today. It was very disorienting to see the new barren and denuded streetscape. New lampposts, sidewalks, and young trees cannot replicate the elegance of the Great Barrington that has been imprinted in my imagination since childhood. I cannot fathom how this could be considered an improvement.
“Great Barrington taps NY man as new town accountant”
By Eoin Higgins, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, November 25, 2016
GREAT BARRINGTON - Great Barrington has a new town accountant.
Robert Patterson was officially hired by the town this week after a two-month selection process.
"He will start in December," Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin told the town's Select Board on Monday.
Patterson will replace outgoing Town Accountant Lauren Sartorti Hobgood, who retired in September after serving for 20 years. He will earn $74,000 a year.
Patterson is a certified public accountant who lives in nearby Hillsdale, N.Y.. He received his bachelor's degree in accounting from the College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y.
His experience comes from his work in New York state, Tabakin said.
Most recently, Patterson was the accountant for the Putnam Board of Cooperative Education Services in Yorktown. He also worked as an accountant for the firm of Sickler, Torchia, Allen and Churchill in Hudson, according to Tabakin.
Patterson's work with the firm, which specializes in municipal audits, was "one of the key things that really impressed us," Tabakin said.
Finance Committee Chairman Michael Wise said he believed Patterson's experience with the Putnam Board included preparing budgets, but he was not certain.
He has up to three years to complete courses for certification in Massachusetts.
Tabakin said she was happy with Patterson's selection.
"It was a thorough process, and we are very pleased with the result," she said.
Reach staff writer Eoin Higgins at 413-496-6236 or @BE_EoinHiggins.
“Great Barrington Police Department earns state accreditation; first in Berkshires”
By Eoin Higgins, email@example.com - The Berkshire Eagle, November 30, 2016
GREAT BARRINGTON - The Great Barrington Police Department has been fully accredited, the first department in the Berkshires to achieve the honor.
"It's been a long time coming," said Chief William Walsh.
Walsh and Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin announced the honor at Monday's Select Board meeting. Tabakin said the department put in "years of work" to meet the standards of the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission.
"The areas are very comprehensive," Tabakin said.
Currently, there are over 200 departments participating in the program statewide. Accreditation brings with it a number of benefits for the department. Meeting a high, universal standard allows the department to compare and contrast its conduct with similar departments.
Accreditation of police departments aims to ensure a level of professional standards across the state. Departments must go through rigorous testing, training, and assessment before achieving accreditation, according to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
"This program is a voluntary, self-initiated evaluation process by which police agencies voluntarily strive to meet and maintain standards established by the profession," according to the office's website.
Standards are maintained by the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission, a private organization that began as a subsidiary of the Office of Public Safety. The commission is part of the nationwide Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
Walsh's team met 246 mandatory and 86 optional standards for accreditation. The process involved a three-year, self-initiated evaluation within police departments. Once the department's evaluation was complete, an assessment team from the commission checked on the standards for accreditation.
Walsh said department Executive Administrative Assistant Cara Becker and Sgt. Paul Storti had helped with writing up policies and procedures to ensure compliance with accreditation regulations. And, he said, the entire force stepped up to ensure they met the standards of the program.
"I have a tremendous amount of pride in my team," Walsh said.
The accreditation ceremony is forthcoming, Walsh said, but no date has been set. The chief said he wanted to get the word out to recognize the men and women in the department for their work.
Selectman Steve Bannon offered his congratulations to the department.
"It's a big honor for the town and a real accomplishment," he said.
Reach staff writer Eoin Higgins at 413-496-6236 or @BE_EoinHiggins.
Letter: “Town govt. continues to bleed taxpayers”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, March 21, 2017
To the editor:
Since the crash of 2009 the private sector has struggled. In the world of contracting, bids have to be clearer, trimmed down and in many cases bare bones. The customers expect the best and should get the best for their money. Meanwhile most people in private businesses buy what the need and cut out the frills. No one buys a truck that won't fit in their garage or a couch that doesn't fit in a living room.
Now let's go to town government. Great Barrington is a prime example of how not to run a town. When it needed a simple firehouse it went for a Taj Mahal instead. Equipment is bought without ever explaining why it breaks down so fast or wondering why computers seem to cost four times as much as when a regular person buys one. No one questions why no other town is part of the Great Barrington police dispatch or why we really need or own and can't go on the sheriff's dispatch. And whatever happened to the bike patrol or bike for that matter?
And all employees get good benefits and raises regardless of output, competence or production. Can't get it done, hire another person to help out and never question why. Bad decisions or actions are seldom a problem. And all volunteers should be compensated, after all they are public servants, which means the public must serve them.
The Berkshire Hills Regional School District continues to extort thousands of dollars from the town and never have to answer for it, after all it's for the unions not the kids. If educators really cared about the kids, Berkshire County would have a total of four good school districts and a good vocational school south of Pittsfield. But every May the sheeple meekly raise their hands and vote on the budgets no questions asked.
Sadly, incompetence greed and mediocre results pay when you are in government. The rest of us have to be honest and work a little cheaper, harder and make sure the customer really gets what they pay for. Too bad the majority of voters continue to stay uninformed, but It's the liberal way.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
- I am a citizen defending the people against corrupt Pols who only serve their Corporate Elite masters, not the people! / My 2 political enemies are Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr., nicknamed "Luciforo" and former Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C. Massimiano, Jr. / I have also pasted many of my political essays on "The Berkshire Blog": berkshireeagle.blogspot.com / I AM THE ANTI-FRANK GUINTA! / Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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