The Select Board, in a Thursday afternoon meeting, offered high praise for Fire Chief Steve Slaman and Town Manager Norman Khumalo during their performance evaluations.
Both were given an overall maximum score of 5 — defined as “exceeds expectations regularly” — from the board. Each received three scores of 5 and two of 4 from the members.
“There’s a lot of stuff, all the things that we’ve talked about here, we can’t quantify with a number, but the stuff that Chief Slaman brings to the town, whether it’s going to a charity run and doing CPR and saving somebody, two years in a row, or just his overall presence [especially at meetings],” Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone said, adding: “He’s thorough, and the one thing that you can’t do is you can’t teach someone to care as much about your community or about your profession as you can with Chief Slaman.”
Slaman’s goals for the past year included developing a public safety study, working with Eversource on an emergency response plan for its LNG facility in town, and preparing a Main Street Corridor Project emergency response plan.
The public safety study is a “work in progress,” Slaman said, noting the report is due to come out in 30-45 days.
As for Eversource, “I was really happy with the last 365 days and kind of the re-go we’ve had with relationship-building,” Slaman said. “The short story is Eversource really supplied me with a couple of new people to work with, I think, and they’ve been much better. Our involvement is literally weekly — even in COVID it’s face to face. We have great contact with them. I feel like I understand the site and the different projects really well. That’s a different world from where we were two years ago [when Eversource failed to notify the town for 10 months after an issue in one of the tanks].
“I think there’s still stuff to be had. They’re slow with their project — it slowed down quite a bit on the timeline. So I still have another heavy year or two worth of work with them.”
As for the Downtown Corridor Project, Slaman said he hasn’t had to do too much yet, although meetings have been held in preparation for the coming changes.
“The MassDOT recognizes that we’re worried about the impact on public safety to respond and access our facilities,” he said. “We want to make sure we can get to everybody in the downtown area. We recognize that the schools and the buses and the movement of downtown are going to have issues, so we want to be ahead of that. … The reality is we really need to get to the next level where we’re talking to the contractors that are doing it so that we really have a legitimate solution.”
The board set three goals for Slaman for the next year but neglected to address them before Slaman left the meeting, so they won’t be confirmed until a future meeting.
The proposed goals are to continue working on a public safety plan, continue to collaborate with Eversource on an emergency plan, and develop a COVID management plan for the department.
Khumalo’s goals for the past year included having the Main Street Corridor Project shovel-ready after the April 2020 Boston Marathon (which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic), developing a comprehensive tree management plan (a plan for the town to bring tree management in house this year fell victim to budget cuts during the pandemic), and delivering the Town Hall parking lot (land with a lot has been acquired on neighboring Walcott Street).
Reading from a prepared summary, Tedstone said:
“The Select Board is very impressed with everything the town manager has taken on, as well as his ability to shift gears and change priorities, as was clearly displayed by the town’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This appropriate response diverted his attention from other projects and objectives, however they would like to see [him] continue to get those projects pursued when appropriate, considering the pandemic is far from over.
“The town manager has also done an excellent job driving the Main Street Corridor Project to 100 percent design and managing the budget process. [The Select Board] appreciate Norman’s candor and patience during negotiations and problem-solving skills along with his ability to find simple solutions to complex financial matters. The board appreciates the generosity in Norman’s approach and style.
“The objective most pressing is continuing to manage the Main Street Corridor Project and tree management, which presents safety issues. Much was accomplished this year, given the confines COVID presented.”
Goals for the next year are for Khumalo to coordinate and execute construction of the Main Street Corridor Project, with groundbreaking by Oct. 31, 2020; to come up with a revised budget process for FY21 so as not to fragment the community; and to increase and implement additional downtown parking.