The downtown project was on everyone’s minds when the Select Board met on Oct. 8 and discussed the annual performance evaluations of Town Manager Norman Khumalo, Police Chief Edward Lee and Fire Chief Steve Slaman.
In the end, all three received annual ratings of “clearly outstanding” and then focused on the new goals set by the Select Board.
Khumalo’s goals from the past year were to manage the Main Street Corridor Project to 100 percent design and to partner with the police and fire chiefs to develop a community preparedness plan.
Despite a recent barrage of complaints from abutters and business owners, the downtown project continues to progress toward a groundbreaking next spring.
“We are hoping that construction will begin right after the Boston Marathon,” Khumalo said. “We have gone through different iterations of the plan, however, at this point what we’re waiting on is refining the plan to respond to some of the feedback that we’ve received relative to the easements that this town is required to make this project move forward.”
Select Board member Brian Herr encouraged Khumalo to be more definitive regarding the project’s start date.
“You used a word in your description of the start date that I would prefer we not use, because we need to make sure we stick to the plan,” Herr said. “It’s going to be a disruptive process to the community, and we cannot drag it on. The word was ‘hoping.’ You were ‘hoping’ to get started in April 2020. I would rather not ‘hope’ that we get started in April of 2020, I would rather we ‘get’ started in April 2020. Is that possible? Can we be that definitive about this project?”
Herr suggested that a groundbreaking be scheduled for the afternoon of Marathon Monday as “a fun, cool way to wrap up Marathon Day 2020.”
Said Herr: “I want to make sure that we get this going because it is a stressor in the community. We’ve obviously had some experience with that recently. But it is time to move ahead.”
Select Board chair Brendan Tedstone supported the idea of a Marathon Day groundbreaking ceremony.
“I’m all for that,” he said. “I’m all for as much pomp and circumstance as we can, for the amount of garbage everyone’s gone through and the amount of time we’ve spent on this over the years in Town Meetings and town [Select Board] meetings and whatnot. I’d like to have some pomp and circumstance. But I just want to make sure that we’re ready to go.”
Responded Herr: “I’m not advocating it on behalf of a pomp and circumstance thing — I’m done running for elected office, so I don’t care about those things anymore. I want the project started on Monday, Marathon Day, period. … To me it’s about setting a schedule and sticking to it come heck or high water.”
Khumalo said that the project is scheduled to go out to bid in November, so it should be on schedule for an April start, assuming there are no unforeseen setbacks.
“The plan identifies the construction beginning right after the Marathon,” Khumalo said. “However, as we all know, in any plan and process there are contingencies, there are issues that might come up. First and foremost, we will have a more definitive start date after we bid the project out.”
As for Khumalo’s other goal, the community preparedness plan, he explained that it was broken down into smaller items and addressed.
“I am excited and proud to have worked alongside Chief Slaman and Chief Lee and the rest of the senior leaders in moving the micro-projects forward that add value to this goal,” he said.
Noted Select Board member John Coutinho: “We’re the No. 1 safest community. What more could we ask for?”
The choices for performance rating are: unsatisfactory, needs improvement, satisfactory, above satisfactory and clearly outstanding, and they have an affect on salary increases. In the initial polling of the board, Tedstone and Coutinho rated Khumalo above satisfactory, while Herr and Irfan Nasrullah went with clearly outstanding. Mary Jo LaFreniere did not participate.
“We were fortunate to recruit Mr. Khumalo to this position 10 years ago, after a very turbulent couple of years in town,” Herr said in explaining his vote. “Since then I think we’ve just built this really good machine that does town government extremely well. … I don’t agree with him on everything, and sometimes he really annoys me. But he does it for the right reasons and he stands in there, and we have, I think, a very healthy relationship and we’ve got a great town. And that’s because of him. So he has to be a a clearly outstanding town manager. There’s no other rating in my view.”
Tedstone also was extremely complimentary of Khumalo but said he does not like to give out ratings of clearly outstanding except in extreme cases.
“You do an awesome job,” he said. “Absolutely awesome. You’re there 24 hours a day if I need you. I can call you, you give me your take on the issue at hand, which I appreciate. You are 1,000 percent pro-Hopkinton 100 percent of the time, even in some of the most tumultuous times that I’ve had as a selectman, where I’ve had to talk to you. Every decision you’ve made has always been for the best of Hopkinton, and that’s a great quality. … You are a treasure in this town, there’s no two ways about it.”
After further discussion, Coutinho changed his vote to clearly outstanding to break the tie.
Looking ahead, the Select Board set three goals for the next year:
- Have the Main Street Corridor Project groundbreaking and commencement in April 2020;
- Develop and implement a tree management program that identifies priority areas and priority trees for removal and maintenance;
- Develop a plan to improve the parking situation in the downtown area.
Lee draws high praise
Lee’s goals for the past year were to partner with the town manager and fire chief to develop a community preparedness plan, finalize the process for HPD accreditation, and define the process for a 5-10-year strategic plan.
Lee explained that all of his goals were met, with full accreditation expected next year. He noted that morale in the department is very high based on an internal survey regarding job satisfaction.
Similar to Khumalo, Lee initially received two votes of clearly outstanding (Herr and Nasrullah) and two of above satisfactory (Tedstone and Coutinho), but Coutinho changed his vote to allow for a majority decision.
“My view of Chief Lee in the last fiscal year is that he’s doing a clearly outstanding job because he is on the right path and he is making significant headway now,” Herr said.
Added Nasrullah: “We reviewed him last year, and I think he has taken the advice and taken the recommendations and ran with it.”
For the coming year, the goals set for Lee were to develop a short-term strategic plan to assess the needs to ensure safety on the fringe parts of the community (trails, lakes, ponds, woods), complete the 5-10-year strategic plan, and identify a strategy to deal with traffic and construction issues caused by the Main Street Corridor Project.
Slaman also ‘outstanding’
Slaman’s goals for the past year were to partner with the town manager and police chief to develop a community preparedness plan as well as continue the fire station study and employee development program.
He explained his progress on all three and receive compliments from all involved board members.
Once again, Tedstone stuck with above satisfactory for his rating, while the other three went with clearly outstanding.
Goals for the next year are to further study the tangible steps for a new public safety facility, keep a focus on the Eversource/LNG plant issues, and work with interested parties to minimize the impact on affected response times due to the Main Street Corridor Project.
Tedstone heaped high praise on all three individuals after the reviews.
“When I look at the three people here, I think it’s absolutely a testament to our town, to our town manager, to our fire chief, to our police chief, to our board, all our boards, HR, everybody, that we are so fortunate to have a such a great staff that directly works with us,” he said. “If the worse thing that we’re doing is we’re arguing over ‘clearly outstanding’ over ‘above satisfactory,’ we’re in a pretty good spot in our town.”