By Bruce Burdett
Much as he enjoys the work and the people here, Town Administrator Jack Healey says change comes slowly to Westport.
“Everything is more contentious here,” than in some other communities, he said Thursday.
Which is part of the reason that he has alerted the Board of Selectmen that he will be leaving the job at the end of June.
Departing with him at that time will be Business Manager Stephen Lombard.
“He came here with me — we are both retired town administrator/town manager types,” Mr. Healey said.
This time, Mr. Lombard may “retire retire, really retire.”
As for Mr. Healey — “I don’t know what God’s got out there for me,” he said, but he wouldn’t rule out taking a similar job in some other town. “I don’t need to work, I’m retired. I work because I love it.”
Mr. Healey started his Westport work as interim town administrator in October, 2011, after the resignation of Michael Coughlin (who moved on to a similar job in Cohasset). Previously Mr. Healey had been the town manager in Middleboro for 22 years after which he also took interim stints in Southbridge and Kingston.
“Steve and I are technicians, not politicians. We are professional managers. We can tell a community what the problems are and what to do about them but it is up to the elected officials to get together and make it happen,” Mr. Healey said.
Without naming names, Mr. Healey said he has come to realize that in Westport politics, “There is a lot of interest in the fight that sometimes gets in the way of the fix.
“People need to develop a culture of civility. We have all got to be able to disagree agreeably. It’s learned behavior but we’ve got to unlearn it.”
Still, he said he is not leaving bitter — “Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying it here. It’s not so much that I am anxious to go anywhere,” but we were brought here to accomplish certain things, I believe we have (and) I don’t think we can do any more.”
Were they to stay, all they would be doing “would be cleaning up after a failed override,” an override he said the town sorely needs, “or more hopefully overseeing a successful override — which anyone can do.”
The administrator said he is proud of a number of accomplishments during his time in Westport. These include:
• Establishing “a real six-year capital plan.”
• “Getting things started” with a personnel plan and policies.
• The town is in the process of achieving changes in how it purchases electricity which could save Westport over $100,000 a year.
• Related to that are prospects of going forward with a landfill solar power project.
• Improving the way Westport deals with storm water management.
One year into the Westport job, and after much debate among the selectmen, Mr. Healey was rehired to his two-day-a-week town administrator post (he said he devotes much more time than that to the job). The arrangement called for bringing in Mr. Lombard on similar terms. Neither receives benefits.
The Healey rehire almost didn’t happen. In an earlier (April) vote, a divided Board of Selectmen had opted not to renew Mr. Healey’s contract for another year. Voting against renewal at that time were then-chairman Richard Spirlet, Antone Vieira and R. Michael Sullivan. Favoring contract renewal were Steven Ouellette and Craig Dutra.
In his letter of resignation, Mr. Lombard thanked Selectmen and other town employees for “all their cooperation and help they have given me to meet the goals and objectives that were assigned to me.”
Fishing, camping, not golf
Were he to retire, and he guesses he won’t just yet, Mr. Healey said would have no trouble keeping busy.
“I like to fish — mostly cast and plug (because) I don’t like to sit still when I go fishing.” He said he fishes all over and had often fished off Gooseberry even before he came to work in Westport.
And “My wife and I have small motor home that we like to go cruising around in (including) up to Maine at least twice every summer … We bring all the kids and grandkids.”
One thing not on that retirement list is golf, a sport he learned to avoid early on.
He said he went to Springfield College where students had to take a skills course every semester.
He tried golf: “I was slicing, hacking away and on the wrong fairway most of the time. The coach came up to me and said, ‘Hey Healey, before that ball hits either you or me in the head, why don’t you take up handball.”
He did as advised and was partnered with a student named Vealey. “We won the round robin tourney — the Vealey-Healey team. They didn’t see that coming.”