Heart-felt farewells to manager expressed with wit

Geoff Beckwith congratulates Adam Chapdelaine.Geoff Beckwith of the Mass. Municipal
Association congratulates Chapdelaine.

An estimated 100 people semi-circled the Town Hall stage, as a number of state officials helped say goodbye to Adam Chapdelaine, with generosity and humor, on June 17, his last day as town manager after serving here 12 years.

In September, he becomes deputy director of Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission, an agency begun in 2010 by then-Mayor Menino seeking to help the city adapt to climate change.

Following an indoor event on Friday, June 17, which almost seemed prepandemic, except for a few wearing masks, here is a summary of farewells to the town's manager on his last day. Jim Feeney, deputy town manager, served as emcee.

Lenard Diggins, Select Board chairman, let wit leaven a heart-felt opening:

"So, can you imagine having five people to whom you directly report? Whether they see themselves as your bosses or the presidents of your fan clubs, members of the Select Board are a handful; and with there being five members on the Select Board and five digits on a hand, the metonymymay be apropos.

"In any case, as well meaning as we may be, I suspect that we have made Adam's job harder; nonetheless, Adam has exhibited nothing but the highest level of professionalism and grace as he has interacted with the Select Board as a body and with me personally."

Friedman:  'a real partner'

State Sen. Cindy Friedman recalled Adam before he came to Arlington, during her days working Sen. Ken Donnelly, as "a real partner" who understood the legislative process. Returning to the present, praised his "amazing staff," and she drew laughs by referring to a big truck outside Town Hall. "Is that all your stuff?"

State Rep. Sean Garballey recalled earlier State House days when he heard from Fall River folks in 2010, the year Adam came to Arlington as deputy to Brian Sullivan: "You're getting one of the best."

Garballey and fellow rep, Dave Rogers, read a citation, an honor they said had not previous been bestowed on a top Arlington manager. It cited Chapdelaine's steadfast addressing of social unrest and Covid-19.

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Mass. Municipal Association (MMA), the statewide organization that supports local government, cited Chapdelaine's "countless hours" working as an MMA president, building its professionalism. Beckwith noted Adam's work in racial equity and transparent government, calling him "an extraordinary person." Because of the pandemic, he said Chapdelaine was the MMA's "only virtual president."

'Honest, passionate'

He called Adam "honest, passionate and not going far," presenting him with a citation. As Adam unwrapped it and began to discard the paper, Feeney directed him to a blue recycling bin, drawing laughs.

Marc Draisen, executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, cited Chapdelaine's work with the Metro Mayors Coalition during the height of Covid. "When he spoke, there was a quiet in the room," Draisen said.

School Superintendent Elizabeth Homan offered no citation or plaque, allowing, "I have been here one year." Still, she noted that at Friday-afternoon administrator sessions, she credited Adam with providing "the most sage advice .... You always put children first."

Sandy Pooler, who signed his contract to become the new manager at a table in the auditorium that morning, thanked Adam for "sanity." He called Chapdelaine a mentor, a listener, a friend.

Adam himself said, "We had a lot of fun."

His notes, which he used for his remarks, are included immediately below followed by comments from others who responded.

Chapdelaine: 'Secret sauce is trust'

After thank-yous to a range of recipients -- from the Select Board to the whole community -- he focused on some individuals:

  • Julie Wayman: ... nobody can match her taste for aging, sometimes rotten food. But additionally, no can match her dogged determination for improving municipal services and working everyday to help Arlington realize its full potential.  It’s people like Julie that make me so confident about the future of local government management in Arlington and beyond.
  • Joan Roman: ... you were always there with the next photo to take or the next press release to write, even when I didn’t have the time or the interest. But you have singlehandedly developed an unmatched communication effort by local-government standards in Arlington. Residents have been so well served and informed by your efforts and I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude for that.
  •  Jim Feeney: A man that refers to himself as a “living legend,” a man of unparalleled sartorial splendor, but in all seriousness, a man of many, many talents. Jim is just as capable of writing a detailed grant application as he is capable of crawling into some duct work to figure out why an HVAC system isn’t working.
  • Sandy Pooler: The man with the corniest, yet sometimes funniest jokes that you’ll ever meet. But more importantly a man that has dedicated his life to serving the public and working to make government more effective and more efficient. You will all be in exceptionally capable hands with Sandy.
  • Kristen DeFrancisco: She would have you think that she’s just some kid from Medford, but if you want to know who makes the town manager’s Office run, look no further than her.  Kristen is diligent, she’s smart, she was always two steps ahead of me. I will forever appreciate all that you have done to help me be successful in the Town Manager’s job. 
  • Rita: The last person that I need to thank is my wife. Where do I even begin? All those nights that I have been at Town Hall – I swear, I was at Town Hall – but really, all those nights that I was out at various meetings, the weekend events, the early morning phone calls, the postmeeting venting sessions. Throughout all of it, you have stood beside me and I have you to thank for supporting me through all of it. I wouldn’t be anywhere without your love and support and for that I am eternally grateful.
Local-government challenges

First, as you all know from your work, the challenges that face local government are tangible, practical and usually have a fairly obvious ticking clock for finding a solution. When a road needs to be repaved, we program it in our roadway-management plan ....

Now, I am not saying that we don’t get into political brouhahas at the local level -- we do -- but at the end of the day, we are accountable for providing critical municipal services, and to coin a phrase from former Arlington Select Board member Charlie Lyons: "There are no red potholes or blue water lines." Said another way, at the local level, we get things done for our residents. Day in and day out and year over year. 

Next, over the past several years, we have had to do more than what might seem like the basics. We have had deal with a global pandemic. We have had to deal with a long-overdue racial reckoning. 

We have had to have hard conversations about policing. We have had to deal with some very real impacts from climate change. We have had to grapple with ever worsening transportation challenges. And we’ve had to deal with the skyrocketing cost of housing that is prompting major demographic shifts in our community and creating never before seen challenges in recruiting and retaining a municipal workforce.  

How tests are met

But, yet again, we are rising to meet these challenges. We don’t have every solution that is necessary to solve these thorny problems, but we are working to find them. 

And this work evidenced by Arlington’s work as a Green Community, by our work in preparing a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness plan, by our work and investment in DEI, by our immediate efforts to utilize the new Housing Choice legislation to pursue zoning changes and by our success in applying for, receiving and implementing Shared Streets grants over the past several years.  

We’re not shying away from these challenges -- we’re taking them head-on -- and we’re doing this because we must. We can’t put our head in the sand and pretend these problems will solve themselves. They won’t.

We get up every day, and we do what we can to find solutions to these challenges so that our residents can live in safe, healthy and equitable communities.

And ultimately, the work on the basics and the work on the more gnarly stuff, combine to create the secret sauce that makes me so bullish about the capability of local government to bridge the gaps in our polarized world. And that secret sauce is trust.

Shore up cracks

The work that we do in local government builds trust in government, it builds trust in community and it builds trust in our collective ability to get things done. It’s that trust that can be used to sure up the cracks in the foundation of this country and hopefully, help us find a way forward as we march deeper into the 21st century.

See the ACMi video news report as Chapdelaine signs off in town:

Now, I am not saying that this will be easy. Or that our challenges will be overcome overnight. But I am confident that through your work -- as planners, as finance officials, in policing, in fire service, in health and human services, in public works, in IT, in conservation, in economic development and in the offices of mayors and managers and town councils -- that collectively we will be able to find a path toward a livable democracy.

Not one where we always agree. But one where we can passionately disagree while still respecting each other’s humanity. One where we can have differing opinions, but still see the value in compromise for the greater good. And most of all, I hope that collectively, in local government, we can find a way to go hard on the issues, but easy on the people.

Lenard Diggins: What I learned from Adam

I have learned much from Adam in all of my direct interactions with him, and in some cases, I have learned even more from him by observing the way in which he interacts with others.

To say that Adam cares a lot is an understatement. When presented with a problem, he not only wants to find a solution to the problem, but he tries to go the extra mile to do right by the people who are affected by the problem.  

Under Adam’s leadership, there have been many, many successes. Indeed, he won’t take credit for most of them, because that’s the nature of a good leader. He has created an atmosphere that fosters meaningful engagement with residents and empowers residents to transform their ideas into meaningful actions and activities.

Your living legacy in Arlington will last for many years to come, not only for the vast initiatives that you have undertaken and your major accomplishments, both locally and regionally, but because of the remarkable things that will be done by many of the Town staff that are assembled here. Through the environment that you have created by effectively implementing the policies set forth by the Town, you have attracted and hired a fantastic and increasingly diverse staff.

Sandy Pooler: His remarks included 'To Be of Use,' by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Feb. 17, 2022: Manager says proposed $196m fiscal '23 budget prepares for future override

This news summary was published Wednesday, June 22, 2022. 

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