Selectmen turned in their annual reviews of Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski this week, and the results weren't pretty.
Three of the five selectmen gave him low marks in a variety of categories, ranging from personnel and financial management to leadership and problem solving. He earned poor marks on his handling of the town yard, information technology and even in his ability to delegate work to others in Town Hall.
This last criticism deserves a second, or third, look.
Since Stapczynski became town manager in 1990, the town has grown in many ways. The budget has increased to more than $170 million and will soon likely top $200 million. There are more residents in town. The infrastructure continues to age, although efforts are now being made to maintain and replace water lines. Commercial development brings its own set of difficulties, creating traffic headaches and other problems.
In short, even though Andover is considered a town, for all intents and purposes it has become a significant urban center of nearly 35,000 people. It seems possible that the job of town manager may have outrun Stapcyznski's ability to keep up with it. The town manager jokes about his lack of technical skills. He carries boxes of documents to every meeting he attends. Last Town Meeting, he nearly needed a dolly to carry all the paperwork he had with him.
He's self-effacing, congenial and charming. A runner, at the age of 68 he crosses the finish line of many races well before people much younger.
All that aside, however, he probably chose the right time to retire.
Andover needs a new town manager who knows how to manage vast amounts of data using the most advanced technology available. The town needs someone who can play hardball with employee unions over contract negotiations. Stapczynski has done well over the last 25 years and is widely respected in his field. But it seems he has a little reluctance to do things differently, something that a fresh set of eyes and ears might bring to the town manager's office.
Last year, the town put the employee health insurance contract out to bid for the first time in years, at the urging of citizens and selectmen. Quotes came back from insurance companies that would have saved the town nearly $1 million. The employees balked at the change, and Stapczynski took some of the blame for their failure.
But putting health insurance out to bid, or flushing water pipes, or turning on streetlights aren't things that citizens or selectmen should have to ask the town manager to do. These are all things that he should just be doing on a daily basis. If it's not health insurance, he should be finding other ways for the town to save money. The fact that the town has never flushed water mains is just plain bizarre. Every community flushes water mains to improve the distribution system. At the urging of Selectman Dan Kowalski, the town is now doing it on a regular basis.
The streetlights debate seemed to show Stapczynski's stubborn side: Rather than work with residents to turn on streetlights, he seemed to fight them. He told them that if they wanted streetlights turned back on, they could pay for them. That's not customer service. That's reckless disregard for the customer. He finally wrote a letter this week to National Grid asking that the company turn back on 23 streetlights that have been off since 2009. It was a letter he should have written a couple months ago, before the issue turned into political theater.
As the town grapples with issues that many big cities deal with, like crime, a struggling education system, spiraling pension and retiree health insurance obligations, to name a few problems, selectmen and the community as a whole need to look for the next generation of leadership who can handle these problems in a forthright, transparent, proactive and progressive way, so that Andover can remain the charming New England town it has always been.