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Hadley administrator Nixon stepping down after 15 years

  • Departing Hadley Town Administrator David Nixon helps new town administrator Carolyn Brennan prepare next year's budget in her office on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Departing Hadley Town Administrator David Nixon helps his successor, Carolyn Brennan, prepare next year’s budget in her office last week. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Departing Hadley Town Administrator David Nixon helps new town administrator Carolyn Brennan prepare next year's budget in her office on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Departing Hadley Town Administrator David Nixon helps new town administrator Carolyn Brennan prepare next year's budget in her office on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Departing Hadley Town Administrator David Nixon reviews fiscal figures with new Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan in her office on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Hadley Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan works with departing town administrator David Nixon in her office on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • David Nixon, seen outside Town Hall last week, has served Hadley as town administrator since 2005. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carolyn Brennan took over as Hadley town administrator in September. Photographed outside town hall on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Monday, January 11, 2021

HADLEY — Over the past 15 years, David Nixon’s tenure as town administrator has coincided with Hadley achieving a triple-A bond rating, completing a new library, senior center and fire substation and developing budgets that preserve town services.

As he departs the position he has held since the summer of 2005, Nixon said the work he has done is for Hadley residents, and that staff, department heads, elected officials and other colleagues are responsible for any success.

“I’ve worked with really good people who do a lot of the heavy lifting,” Nixon said in a phone interview, prior to his final day on the job Thursday. “Accomplishments are always shared accomplishments, it’s always been a team effort.”

Nixon, 65, announced in January that he would be departing Hadley, though not retiring. Since August, when his successor Carolyn Brennan began, he has been the deputy town administrator, an overlap preparing the town for the future.

The triple-A bond rating, he said, shows the sound financial policies developed at Town Hall. “Not too many towns of 5,000 people can say that,” Nixon said of the bond rating.

Good stewardship of the community’s taxes has also given Hadley the ability to pay for the new buildings, significant upgrades at Town Hall and beginning of needed repairs for the dike that protects the town.

He has seen the fire department go from all volunteers to one that has an associated private ambulance service under Chief Michael Spanknebel, the Department of Public Works consolidate its work and Police Chief Michael Mason institute policies and procedures to improve the department.

“The police department has come a long way, as well, with the leadership of Chief Mason,” Nixon said.

Nixon, who lives in Greenfield, came to Hadley after serving for nine years in an identical role in Deerfield, and when he started, he was under the impression the communities were similar, observing that the populations are identical, agriculture is prevalent and both have tax bases that don’t overburden the residential taxpayer.

“Hadley’s situation is far more complex and dynamic than I expected, ” Nixon said, observing that the small town can be swelled by 30,000 to 80,000 people during the day, depending on the amount of shopping activity on Route 9 and whether the University of Massachusetts campus, with about one-third of its land mass in Hadley, is having an event at the Mullins Center and McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Working with the Select Board, Nixon said he understands that disagreements between members are a matter of policy.

“They are all concerned about solving problems and doing what’s best for the community It’s very remarkable their commitment to the community, and the community should be pleased with the way they handle their role for the town,” Nixon said.

Fiscally responsible

Elected officials who have worked with Nixon and observed him appreciate his service.

“He treated Hadley as if it’s his hometown,” said board member Joyce Chunglo, who was on the board and its search committee when Nixon was hired. “He’s taken care of us in a very fiscally responsible way.”

Chunglo said Nixon has been a good fit, keeping a level head and never getting involved in any of the inner politics and debates that can consume the elected board.

“He’s usually been forthright, never pitted one board member against another,” Chunglo said.

She also credits him with remarkable budget projections brought to Town Meeting each year.

Former board member Molly Keegan said Nixon’s service as chairman of the Small Town Administrators of Massachusetts organization illustrates his competency.

“What has really struck me over his 15 years in the helm (is) he has always conducted himself in a decent and honorable way,” Keegan said.

He has also been a mentor and handled an ever-evolving leadership, with foresight to have the town adopt local options meals and hotel taxes, Keegan said. “Financial stability of the town of Hadley can be credited to David’s quiet and steady hand on the steering wheel,” Keegan said.

But during his time, Nixon faced questions. with a petition that circulated in 2012 calling for his firing due to claims of financial mismanagement and using town resources for a personal agenda. That petition was never acted on.

“You have to take your lumps, but what I do is for the good of the community,” Nixon said. “None of this is personal. All of it is on behalf of the townspeople.”

David Moskin, who served on the board for six years during Nixon’s time, said he appreciates his intelligence, cordiality and a work ethic that will be sorely missed. “I wish him well in the future,” Moskin said.

But Moskin added he worries some issues remain unresolved in town, in particular budget challenges, such as an increase in payroll without providing more services, and town-owned buildings that continue to deteriorate.

John Allen, who served on the board before Nixon arrived, said a change could be good, since there are issues still coming before the Select Board that should be handled at the department head level.

“I’m looking forward to a new perspective on town operations and the town budget,” Allen said.

Nixon said 2020 has been one of the most difficult from the standpoint of keeping people healthy, businesses open and the tax rate affordable.

“It’s been a challenge and everyone’s had to make sacrifices,” Nixon said. “This has been hard on everybody, and everybody I know has experienced some kind of setback because of the virus.”

Nixon is already preparing next year’s budget with Brennan, treasurer Linda Sanderson, assistant treasurer Joan Zuzgo and Deborah Radway, the interim human resources head. “We want to be position as strategically as possible for a balanced budget,” Nixon said.

In his last days, there are other things to do, as well, such as paperwork related to the Russell School Building.

He has no set plans for the coming weeks.

“I intend to spend more time exploring my creative side,” Nixon said, noting that he will reacquaint himself with playing trombone, hopes to be involved with theater productions and travel, when safely able to.

“I’m only a phone call away,” Nixon said, though he is confident that he won’t be needed.

“People have shown a lot of dedication, I’m glad I’ve been able to move the town forward,” Nixon said.