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Town Administrator to Get Annual Evaluation

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on January 25 to ask Town Administrator Richard Villani to come up with a template form to provide him with a mutually agreed upon annual evaluation. That was the board's only action following a lengthy discussion on Villani's performance that Selectman William Buckley had called for earlier last month. "There's been no mention of an evaluation tool [so far]. I would welcome it." Villani said.

Following Buckley's request, there was widespread speculation in town – partially fueled by unattributed statements on the local radio station's news reports – that Buckley and Selectman William Kingkade were trying to fire Villani. But, both selectmen quashed that idea on January 25.

"This is not an effort to replace, fire or drag anyone over the carpet," Buckley said. He added, "The end point in mind is simply to discuss performance, reset expectations and help the town administrator to be successful." "You are going to be our town administrator until 2021 unless you decide differently. I firmly believe that," said Kingkade.

Buckley had asked that the meeting be held in a closed-door executive session. Town Counsel Gerald Moody notified selectmen, however, that the state's Open Meeting Law required any discussion of performance to be held out in the open. "When we look at the process, it's very different from what one might go through in the private sector," Buckley explained. "For example, bosses meet with employees all the time and talk about redirecting, talk about performance and it's not necessarily done on camera in front of everybody's brother, sister, mother and cousin."

"I don't intend to say anything that I've not said privately, one-on-one with the Town Administrator, or in a public meeting," said Buckley also noting, "I want to make abundantly clear that there are a lot of things that Rick does well."

Before reading through a list of items detailing things he wished Villani had done better, Buckley also made it clear that Villani's contract calls for a performance evaluation, but it had never been done. And, in some cases, issues of concern to him involved town departments that report to Villani, he said.

"In fairness to the Town Administrator" Buckley said, "We have no objective evaluation system by which to leverage and provide constructive feedback and comment on a periodic basis so that somebody can improve and move through the progression of being what I would call outstanding performers all day every day. And, nobody's that, but they strive to that. And, at least they know from their various managers and bosses what the expectation is and if there's a reset that we should re-set together."

Chairman Brian Murray addressed Buckley's comments by saying, "I don't necessarily agree with your characterization of a number of those items, and I think you're anything but fair to the town administrator."

Kingkade said people were speculating he had it in for Villani because Villani was chosen over him during the selection process for town administrator several years ago. "I am not upset, disappointed or have ever held it against the town administrator," he said. "Everything that I'm going to say, good bad or indifferent is a conversation that I've had with Rick, so this isn't a secret." Kingkade said it was unusual not to have an annual performance review.

He cited Villani's strengths as "being a gentleman. He changed the culture of this Town Hall." Villani acts professionally, is great at customer service, and manages by wandering around Kingkade added. "Some of us struggle with one boss. Our school superintendent has seven. Rick has three. It can't be easy," he said.

Kingkade took issue with a clause in Villani's contract that called for developing a mutually agreed upon evaluation method that stated, "Absence of any formal evaluation shall be considered a favorable evaluation." He added, "I don't think it's fair to you and I don't think it's fair to this board." With an evaluation form, "there's nothing to argue about," Kingkade said.

"I am confident that you'll be even more successful as we move forward," Kingkade said. One piece of advice he gave – with almost all of the town employees who directly report to Villani sitting in the audience – was, "I think your staff should strive to make you look your best, so that we can appreciate you and your work even more moving forward."

Given a chance to respond to Buckley's and Kingkade's comments, Villani noted, "I'm extremely proud of my almost three years as serving as the town administrator in Milford." He reviewed the list of items Buckley mentioned and responded how he believed he had taken care of each one appropriately. Villani agreed to improve communication, but said that may result in him asking the board to take a vote on an issue – especially when board members disagree on a given issue – or in asking the board to clarify specifically what it is asking him to do.

"People have talked about my management style. I meet with department heads almost daily," Villani said. At first, he took the time to learn each person's strengths and weaknesses to determine how to manage each person, he explained.

"If this board wants to do a yearly evaluation, I welcome it," Villani said. "If this board wants to go forward and take this as a positive, I'm willing to do that," he added. "I want this to be a positive thing. I don't want this to be a negative thing."

Buckley's Issues

Specific issues raised by Selectman William Buckley about Town Administrator Richard Villani's performance were:

• Repeated requests for a "lessons learned" document about why the town went through three Information Technology (IT) directors in four years;

• A proposal by Villani to have the town's IT employees directly report to an outside consultant;

• Lack of communication with town employees about a payroll software "glitch" that meant employees were not going to be fully paid for one week;

• Not taking any suggested training or developing mentoring relationships with his peers in nearby towns;

• Not providing the board with a list of ongoing issues being monitored;

• A Planning Department memo that led to a daily newspaper article stating that a local businessman's license was in jeopardy, without that businessman receiving any prior notice;

• Hearing on the radio that it would cost several hundred thousand dollars to repair a dam shared with Upton; and,

• Not being notified on a timely basis that a peer engineering review of costs to maintain the Louisa Lake dam had projected costs dropping by several hundred thousand dollars.

"Frankly, it's communication. It's re-

Kingkade, Murray Clash over Villani's Contract

During the January 25 public evaluation of Town Administrator Richard Villani, Selectman William Kingkade took issue with the fact that Villani has two contracts. The five-year contract that begins this coming April 1 was signed back in December, 2014 and "That doesn't pass the smell test," Kingkade said. He also noted that Villani is underpaid.

Selectmen Chairman Brian Murray, in turn, took issue with his colleague's remark. Murray noted that the five-year contract basically locked up Villani in the position for a longer period and saved the town money due to its salary terms. "It's extremely low and much lower than surrounding towns," the chairman said.

Kingkade noted it was the timing of the new contract – signing it more than two years before it took effect – that bothered him. Murray reiterated the focus should be on how I saved the town money, not on when it was signed.

Reminding people that he was not serving on the board when Villani's contract was extended, Kingkade voiced his opinion that he had the right to comment on it. "Am I a potted plant here? I'm not going to be," he said.


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