(High) Derrik M. Kennedy, who became Westerly’s former town manager on Friday, sat down with Town Hall reporter Dale Faulkner earlier in the week for an exit interview that was both introspective and aimed at sustaining his legacy, particularly in the realm of building a professional leadership team that he could trust to carry out his objectives. Kennedy came to town in 2015 with the reputation of a technocrat, and also with the expectation that he would be a “change agent” — a goal that the Town Council made explicit, but one that was somewhat at odds with his training and experience. “They wanted some change, and as much as that isn’t my personality, I had to be that, and it was hard — very, very hard,” he said. Underscoring that admission — although he didn’t say it explicitly — is the fact that Kennedy appears to be much better equipped to serve as a community’s top administrator now than he was coming in. He learned on the job, he learned from the citizenry, he enjoyed working in “an absolutely beautiful community.” He may never master the art of public relations, but we’ve seen some improvement. Kennedy started here in the aftermath of a period of scandal and disruption in civic affairs, and left with a record of accomplishment in several key areas: in municipal finance, infrastructure, and public policy. As an outsider, he even forced a reckoning on the town’s longstanding troubles with shoreline access. We wish him luck in his next assignment in Mansfield, Conn.
(Low) With Derrik Kennedy gone from the scene, the Town Council is headed toward hiring an interim town manager, voting 6-0 last week to offer the job to J. Mark Rooney, a veteran municipal government manager from Illinois. Rooney’s resume is impressive, both in local government and in the military, where he attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. As Councilor Philip Overton said, “He’s a great candidate” with a history of “powerful leadership.” He did not part on amiable terms from his last job, as the village manager of Carpentersville, Ill. According to the Elgin Courier-News, the Village Board of Trustees withdrew its separation offer on Jan. 24, asserting that Rooney had already quit. As Trustee Diane Lawrence said, “Records indicate the last day he reported to work was Jan. 5. At that time, he cleared out his office of personal belongings. According to the employee handbook, any employee who fails to come to work without notifying the village will be considered voluntarily resigned.” One of the sticking points in the separation negotiations, accordng to the village attorney, was the details of a non-disparagement clause, prohibiting either party from making negative comments. This recent history may or may not be relevant here, but we agree with Hatsy Moore, the local activist, that the Town Council’s deliberations were excessively secretive, with “no input from the public.” It should be noted, though, that the anti-Rooney online petition she cited in her remarks to the council was four years old, supported by only 121 people, and largely devoted to fiscal complaints that a town executive accumulates during the normal course of his job — things like tax increases, police and fire staffing, road repairs. It is not a wealthy community.
(High) The state Department of Environmental Management grant awarded to Hopkinton last week will go a long way toward completing major improvements at Langworthy Field in Hope Valley. The $300,000 grant was announced by Gov. Gina Raimondo, who said that “Modernizing playgrounds, sports fields, and walking trails will encourage people to get outside, get active, and explore our beautiful state.” The park will serve people of all ages. Town Council President Frank Landolfi praised Town Planner James Lamphere, who has been working on the project since 2012, and Recreation Director Mary Sawyer, for their role in securing funding for the work. “It’s going to be beautiful,” Lamphere said. “It’s going to be the gem of South County, this park.” We’re looking forward to it.