Solid support for removing O’Donnell

The Great Barrington Select Board has declined to renew the contract of Town Manager Kevin O’Donnell. They have done the right thing.

Great Barrington also did the right thing when it opted for a town manager form of government, a decision which I supported. Under this plan, the Select Board, one of the best in years, is supposed to set policy (broadly defined) and the manager is supposed to implement that policy. Sometimes that line can get blurred.

Those of us who live on Great Barrington’s Hill have been yelling for months about drivers speeding up Hollenbeck Avenue at 45 and 50 mph. A single patrol car parked on Sumner Street would put an end to that, pronto. I know for a fact the town manager has been asked to make that happen, but I’ve never seen one there.

We have a very large, tax-supported police force. You would think that there would always be a foot patrolman in town during the busiest nighttime hours, particularly in light of the town’s past history with drug dealers. I’ve seen a cop or two on some nights, but for the most part, it just hasn’t happened. If a policy is set by the Selectmen to have an officer in the town, it seems as though that’s what should happen. If the town manager views every request by the Select Board as a threat to his own powers, he doesn’t understand the way it works. The board is his boss and he needs to respect the feedback that the members of that board get from citizens.

The town of Great Barrington has been pretty unhappy about the way the Main Street reconstruction plan has been implemented. I know for a fact that some members of the Board of Selectmen were not privy to all the details. And when they finally did find out and objected, they were told “it’s too late.” A good town manager or superintendent of schools like Peter Dillon knows how to keep his board close rather than in the dark. A bad one always sees everything as a contest of wills. The fact that the town has been torn asunder over Main Street reconstruction, the deployment of the police department and the sale of the old firehouse is a pretty good indicator about the lack of communication between the board and the manager.

Communication is the issue. There have been complaints about the way O’Donnell has spoken down to people who have gripes. Communicating with the board and the public are two components of the manager’s job. If the manager can’t communicate, well, “Next!”

O’Donnell has done a number of good things. He introduced a new budgeting system that has served the town well. The aforementioned Great Barrington Police Department is not as out of control as it once was. But the Select Board is correct to ask that the manager fulfills its expectations. O’Donnell has not done so and they will now find someone who will.

On yet another matter, a very ambitious man named Lee Scott Laugenour has decided to run for the Massachusetts House of Representatives on the Green Rainbow Party line against one of my greatest heroes, William “Smitty” Pignatelli.

I have known a lot of politicians in my time and Smitty is right at the top of the list. He has always been there for his constituents. He has fought tooth and nail to get everything that he can for our towns, cities, villages and cultural institutions.

I am sure that Laugenour has been heartened by the showing for progressive Bill Shein in some of the towns that will vote in this election, but Smitty cleaned his clock the last time out and will do so again. Too many of us owe too much to Smitty to desert him now. He’s earned our support.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 9/29/12

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