Powers Passed Over By Foxborough

by William F. Galvin
Town Administrator Joseph Powers was runner-up for the Foxborough Town Manager position. FILE PHOTO Town Administrator Joseph Powers was runner-up for the Foxborough Town Manager position. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH – While members of the Foxborough Select Board agreed Town Administrator Joseph Powers gave a strong interview for the town manager position, the board voted 4-1 on Tuesday night to name acting Town Manager Paige Duncan to the position.

Powers was one of three finalists interviewed for the position last week. Foxborough select board members said Powers was a good communicator, quick to respond, had a sense of humor, and answered questions with honesty. Among the concerns raised about hiring him was the hour and 20 minute commute from Harwich to Foxborough and unanswered questions about an incident that occurred in Braintree when Powers was placed on administrative leave. Board member Stephanie McGowan said neither one of those concerns was raised when interviewing Powers.

McGowan said she thought Powers would fit well in Foxborough and provided a “refreshing” interview, and in the end she cast the one dissenting vote against Duncan after an hour and half discussion.

The field was cut from five to three before the finalists interviews got underway last Wednesday. Candidates Thomas Guerino, an executive director of the Greenfield Housing Authority and former longtime town administrator in Bourne, and Christopher Senior, town manager in Cohasset, who was a finalist for the Foxboro position a year ago, both withdrew their names.

Duncan, who served as the director of land use and economic development for the past eight years in Foxborough, was named acting town manager in August, after Town Manager John Coderre left abruptly after less than a year on the job. Members of the select board said Duncan had strong support from department heads and her knowledge of the community was a valuable asset.

Duncan was not on the list of four finalists provided to the select board by a screening committee. The board added her as a fifth finalist. During public comment in the board’s meeting Tuesday night, one citizen called the board’s action a lack of professionalism, charging the addition of Duncan to the finalist list caused two qualified candidates to withdraw.

The Foxborough Select Board interviewed Scott Lambaise, town administrator in Abington, on Wednesday evening, and Duncan and Powers Thursday. Foxborough Select Board Chair Mark Elfman said the board was looking for responses to questions that were “specific examples from the past rather than what if scenarios. We’re passionate about finding the right candidate for our next town manager.”

Powers, who completes a three-year term as Harwich Town Administrator at the end of June, provided a brief history of his municipal experience, including time in Braintree as a selectman and town clerk, a year in Wellfleet as assistant town administrator and town clerk, and five years in Harwich as assistant town administrator, interim administrator and town administrator.

“I decided in 2019 I wanted to commit to administration after many years as town clerk, elected and appointed, and a selectman,” Powers said during the interview. “In 2019 I really understood the role and wanted to expand into that side of government for human resources, procurement, personnel management, everything that came with the assistant town administrator’s role, with a goal of perhaps in five years being considered for a town manager somewhere.”

He said Foxborough has a lot of similarities to Harwich according to the demographics, statistics and the financials. He highlighted his experiences in Braintree, his home town, adding Foxborough would not overwhelm him.

“Foxborough is a premier opportunity and that is why I’m here tonight,” said Powers.

When addressing a question about his leadership style and working with a team, Powers responded that he is a collaborator, someone who partners with people. He said he is not hands off, but recognizes department heads as “subject matter experts” and expects them to provide leadership. His philosophy, Powers said, is not laissez faire, but it is also not micromanaging.

“I support them with what I’ve learned, provide leadership, always being present, collaborative management, and know what they are doing and being supportive,” he said.

He called his financial management philosophy “conservative.” On budget development, Power said he does not do zero-based budgeting, but rather builds budgets off the previous year based on the select board’s guidance. Power said he has offered the select board a 2.7 percent budget increase for the coming year, but the board wants it reduced.

Local receipts through the increase in a short-term rental tax from 4 to 6 percent have been used to establish special purpose stabilization funds for affordable housing and wastewater projects in Harwich, Powers said, while free cash has been used to set up a stipend program to assist preschool children. Should that program continue, it will be funded through the operating budget, he added.

Regarding funding major capital projects, Powers said he plans to put in place a wastewater infrastructure investment fund to address a massive and disruptive capital project facing the community. The route to such an implementation is to “listen, lead, and talk, talk, talk,” he said.

Asked about grievances in union contracts, Powers admitted he has had his share of “uncomfortable and challenging situations,” but it should be a fair and open process with a strong level of communication. Performance improvement plans and having a human resources person to provide a place for employees to go are important, he said.

“I go into it remembering I’m a human being and the person in front of you is a human being,” he said of hearing grievances.

Asked about providing customer service and transparency, Powers said the best tool for community engagement and customer service is technology so people do not have to come to town hall.

“I don’t really feel I’ve accomplished what I want to accomplish on customer service and transparency,” he said. “I know that’s probably a bad answer because I know the critical importance of it. For me it’s making sure you engage with people before, during and after select board meetings. It’s making sure that the information you provide in the town meeting warrant is as comprehensive as is possible.”

“Government can be unwieldy for any of us, any time I can translate and make messages easier, I can do that. I think technology is going to be key,” said Powers. “But for my team it’s communicating by walking around, it’s communicating in writing and having one-on-one conversations, department communications, and group communications. But as we build out the technology, I know we’re going to leverage that for a better tool, electronic newsletters and things of that nature."