Bockelman gets high marks in council review

  • Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 20, 2019

AMHERST — Town Manager Paul Bockelman is earning praise from the Town Council for his work in the transition to a new form of government that got underway last December.

Along with largely positive reviews for his fiscal management, long-range planning and relationship with elected officials and the public, Bockelman got high marks for the assistance he has offered in the draft composite review written by Council President Lynn Griesemer and released at Monday’s meeting.

The 22-page memo, which is continuing to be tweaked by the council, will be used as the basis for entering contract negotiations with Bockelman later this month or early September.

“Every member of the Town Council appreciates working with you and admires your excellent service to our community,” Griesemer wrote.

That sentiment was echoed in many of the individual councilor reviews, also made public at the meeting.

“Paul Bockelman is a great town manager. Amherst is lucky to have him at the helm,” wrote District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam.

“He strikes me as highly competent and professional, a good listener, someone who cares deeply about the town, its residents and his staff,” was one of the comments written by District 3 Councilor George Ryan in his review.

Bockelman was instrumental in the work to have Amherst move from a Select Board, as the top policy board, and Town Meeting, as the legislature, to the Town Council.

“He planned and executed the transition and has done well to aid the councilors in learning about the various departments of the town,” At Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke wrote. “All of this has helped the council get off to a good start.”

“I am in awe of Mr. Bockelman’s skills in having overseen the first seven months of the town’s transition, while also very competently running our very complicated day-to-day operations,” District 5 Councilor Darcy DuMont wrote.

“The support we have received from the town manager during the transition has been admirable,” noted District 2 Councilor Patricia DeAngelis.

The praise also included other aspects of his work, such as moving employees from the self-insured health trust to the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association health benefits trust, assisting with negotiating an assessment method for the communities that make up the regional school system and creation of a new licensing board.

Several councilors expressed concern about various aspects of Bockelman’s work, including where things stand with the strategic partnership negotiations with the University of Massachusetts, why the Craig’s Doors homeless shelter’s staff recently resigned, and the lack of action on having Amherst benefit from spin-off businesses associated with UMass.

One of the areas where councilors also had concerns was the need to increase diversity of staff, boards and committees.

In her comments, Hanneke wrote: “Diversity of membership on committees is an area that the town struggles with. A concrete plan for addressing this needs to be deployed.”

Pam also cited this and suggested change in the appointments process by making all applications to serve on boards and committees “known to public and Town Council.”

District 4 Councilor Evan Ross wrote in his comments that Bockelman needs to better engage some parts of the community

“Forums, hearings and committees are still largely attended by the same familiar faces,” Ross wrote, though he also thanked Bockelman for “the clear way he is able to articulate and frame issues of importance to our town.”

District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen in her comments wrote that Bockelman will have to focus on town finances and the more than $100 million in future building projects, including a new elementary school, fire station and Department of Public Works headquarters, and find “a least-cost approach and comparative external assessment” to keep the price tags as low as possible.

Griesemer said the Town Council only got three public comments and 10 comments from committee chairpersons on Bockelman’s performance, and just 30 from the 324 full- and part-time staff eligible to participate.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.