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Town Manager Bill Keegan

A favorable performance evaluation has earned Town Manager William Keegan a 2.5 percent merit raise, effective July 1.

Selectmen, each of whom contributed to a joint evaluation summary, endorsed that outcome Tuesday night after briefly discussing what had been a lengthy review process.

“I don’t think anyone can say you had an unsatisfactory year in any regard,” said board member Leah Gibson. “I wouldn’t want your job.”

The favorable evaluation earned Keegan a $4,935 (2.4%) merit raise, effective July 1, as stipulated in the town manager’s employment contract with the town, bringing his salary to $202,360.

Walking fellow board members through an executive summary compiled with the assistance of Assistant Town Manager (and human resources director) Michael Johns, former chairman Chris Mitchell noted that selectmen placed Keegan’s performance in the context of a particularly challenging year.

Referring directly to the evaluation summary, Mitchell listed a litany of Keegan’s accomplishments over the past year that included:

  • Avoiding litigation while resolving a complex series of personnel issues in the town finance department;
  • Appointing a new fire chief and assistant town manager promoted from within;
  • Leading the effort to finalize a regional dispatch agency with Easton, Mansfield and Norton;
  • Negotiating labor contracts with three of the town’s bargaining units;
  • Producing a balanced budget that left room for replenishing free cash and stabilization funds;
  • Ensuring completion of the RFP and selection for the fire station/funeral home project.

Each selectman participated in the annual review by completing an evaluation of the town manager which featured both numerical scores and commentary on a range of criteria. Individual reviews were then turned over to Johns who created both an aggregate numerical score and a text narrative which attempted to capture the “essence” of the individual comments.

This year, Johns worked directly with Mitchell to generate the summary document, which he characterized as “very reflective” of commentary from all five selectmen. Keegan’s cumulative rating was 3.16 on a scale of 4.

In addition to the numerical rankings on different criteria, that narrative includes selected quotes from the individual evaluations, but does not attribute them to specific selectmen.

“Bill distinguished himself as an exceptional leader,” read one of the quotes. “He holds his staff to a high standard but also holds himself to the same standard, if not higher. He has the respect of all employees, which is not an easy accomplishment.”

Another stated: “This has been a challenging year, but Bill has done very well to handle everything thrown at him and us. A few times he has appeared to disagree with others and when he does it shows a need to work on staying calm and even.”

“The budget process discussions starting with the disagreement between the town manager and moderator had a reverberating effect on the process through town meeting. Also, this was a very trying year and some of the frustration showed in some of the relationships with the board.”

Selectman David Feldman characterized the commentary as key to any performance evaluation.

“If you’re not truly honest, with criticism when necessary, you’re doing everybody a disservice,” Feldman said. “That’s how people grow. That’s how people learn.”

“There needs to be some good constructive criticism in every person’s review,” Mitchell added.

The summary, which also includes a self-evaluation by Keegan, is considered public information, while the individual reviews prepared by selectmen are private personnel documents shielded from public review.

“I read all of the evaluations and I take all the comments seriously,” Keegan said. “I always take it as a learning experience for both sides.”

The manager’s evaluation process had been something of a hot potato. In 2018, former selectman James DeVellis alleged that Johns’ predecessor, Mary Beth Bernard, sanitized the summary portion by excluding comments critical of Keegan’s performance.

This prompted some board members to suggest revising the review process, but at Johns’ urging selectmen instead opted to stick with the existing protocol.

In his self-evaluation, Keegan reiterated pleas for selectmen to develop both policy and budgetary frameworks for the upcoming year — and on Tuesday night recommended that discussion be undertaken during the summer months.

“It’s the guidance I need and the staff needs to shape our work accordingly,” he said.