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Stronach Announces Reelection Plans, Plus 5 More Select Board Takeaways

The Select Board opened by approving a change of manager for Main St. Liquors, but it was an announcement at the end of the meeting that leads our roundup.

1. Longtime Select Board member Anne Marie Stronach announced that she would not seek reelection when her current term ends in 2022. Stronach is the board’s representative on the Elementary School Building Committee and has been instrumental in keeping the project on track to open on time and on budget despite the pandemic. She cited family considerations.

Photo: Stronach, left, helped lead the campaign to build a new school for Tewksbury.

There are 11 seats up in 2022, and papers will be available for those interested in running beginning Monday, Jan. 3.

2. Tewksbury’s DPW, with help from other town departments, plows 160 miles of streets, 60 acres of parking lots and 19 miles of sidewalk. Unfortunately, the new Shawsheen sidewalks will not be among the stretches cleared this year. Tewksbury public works director Brian Gilbert noted that he has 24 in-house staff supplemented by 41 contracted pieces of equipment. That’s down from a high of 62. Last year, the DPW had 48 contracted vehicles. Gilbert blamed the shortfall on higher insurance costs, milder winters that minimize the rate of return for drivers, competition from private businesses for plowing and a bidding war among towns in the region.

Gilbert hopes to incentivize more drivers to sign on and come in on all plowable events, but the bottom line is that the time needed to remove snow will likely increase, and residents are asked to be patient. Observe the overnight parking ban, and peruse “A Resident’s Guide to Winter Snow & Ice Operations and Procedures.”

Gilbert advises that sidewalks likely won’t be cleared until the next day and suggests that residents who have issues with plowing call the DPW during business hours or, preferably, use the town’s work order system.

3. No business was delinquent in payments for various licenses, so more than 100 renewals were quickly approved subject to all required taxes and utility fees being up to date. That includes 30 all alcohol licenses and five of the six available wine and malt liquor licenses.

4. The Board will interview three “solid candidates” for an open seat on the Conservation Commission at a virtual meeting early next year.

5. Town manager Richard Montuori’s annual performance review was overwhelmingly positive, as expected based on previous feedback. At the Jan. 4 meeting, the board will go into executive session to discuss compensation.

Select board clerk James Mackey called out the manager’s willingness to answer all questions in a timely and complete manner in Mackey’s nine months on the board. The pending new town website, cyber security improvements and keeping costs down on the new DPW are specific requests, along with continuing to work with the zoning Bylaw Committee to bring the revised proposal to Town Meeting. 

“It’s been a pleasure over the past nine months, and I’m looking forward to the next two years,” said Mackey.

Member Todd Johnson praised Montuori’s communications, financial planning and decision-making skills.

“I think this town is super blessed to have you at the helm” said Johnson. “Many communities are struggling to find talent, and you are one of the best.”

Board member Anne Marie Stronach based her comments on metrics based on goals and objectives laid out by Montuouri.

“I also appreciate that you don’t bite off more than you can chew, and you’ve taught that to your department heads,” she said, zeroing in on the empowerment of town staff and the trust between the town manager and other leaders.

“I see that trust being developed with your new police chief, with your new fire chief, as well as the trust that you put in your current staff,” she said. She also agreed with Johnson on financial management.

“You make it look effortless,” said Stronach of the annual budget presentation given at each Annual Town Meeting. “In my opinion, you are the best town manager in the state.”

Stronach acknowledged that these reviews are sometimes characterized as a “love fest” by residents who may be less familiar with the inner workings of town government and the situations faced by some neighboring towns. She says that Tewksbury is widely acknowledged to be very fortunate in its town manager.

Vice-chair Jayne Wellman cited the circumspection with which Montuori conducts town business. 

“Managing a municipality during a worldwide pandemic is no easy task,” said Wellman. ” The budget was completed on time, town meetings happened, in person, safely. The work of the town continued almost without a hitch. He has hired a new police chief and fire chief, advocated for increased state funding at all levels, and ably supports his staff across all domains – including a very challenging redistricting process.”

Wellman also cited the town manager’s work in setting up a rental and mortgage assitance program.

“He continues to meet privately with neighborhood groups affected by large projects under construction or even on the horizon,” she said. “My only request would be to adopt a policy of trying to communicate with all the people that you can, in all the ways that you can, any time that you can and working to coordinate campaigns across various channels and throughout community groups. “

“Did I mention this is Mr. Montuori’s favorite night of the year?” quipped chair Jay Kelly, referring to the town manager’s obvious discomfort with praise. “I’ll never stop challenging you on the budget, water and sewer, tax shifts, capital improvements, including the DPW stuff, but that’s all good.”

Kelly also called out how Montuori handles issues with staff “in-house, behind closed doors,” processes he as Select Board chair is often privy to. “Sometimes residents don’t see that, but I think that leadership style is commendable.”

Montuori thanked the board for their comments and called out as a mentor and teacher longtime Town Counsel Charlie Zaroulis, who passed away this year.

6. In board member reports, Mackey said he is working with the town manager to identify ways to lower the cost of the new DPW building. While the new website will not be launched by year’s end as hoped, it is close.

Johnson reminded residents that Tuesday, Jan. 18 is the last opportunity for residents to weigh in on the new zoning bylaw proposal.  

“We’ve had a number of interested parties bring us items to consider,” he said. “Some of them we’ve adopted. Some of them have helped us, maybe improve upon what’s in the bylaw … there’s been ample dialogue and that’s been done in both written form through email communication as well as in person.”

Wellman reported that the DEI committee is working on a communitywide survey to be launched in January, and Stronach reported that the new elementary school is moving forward quickly. Educators have been able to get into the building — but they will not be able to transfer all their supplies from the old buildings to the new. “But don’t worry, the new school will be well supplied!”

Lorna is a U.S. Army veteran and 25-year resident of Tewksbury who has written for organizations ranging from the DIA to InformationWeek to a free weekly in New London that sent her to interview the pastry chef at Foxwoods.

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