Michael Kline: 00:00:04 Okay. Are you ready to begin?
Tony Logalbo: Yeah. Sure.
MK: Okay. Can you pull in just a little closer?
TL: I sure can.
MK: So I'm Michael Kline, and I'm here in the Trustee's Room of the Concord Free Public Library on a cloudy—what is it?—Wednesday afternoon.
MK: Thursday afternoon, the 25th of September. And would you say, "My name is," and tell us—?
TL: Tony Logalbo.
MK: Can you say, "My name is?"
TL: My name is Tony Logalbo.
MK: Okay, and your date of birth, please?
TL: October 17, 1947.
MK: Okay, '47. All right. And if you don't mind, maybe you can start off and tell us a little bit about your people and where you were raised.
TL: Well, I was born in Flushing, New York—it's in the borough of Queens in New York City—and raised there. My parents were—grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Their parents came to Ellis Island in the teens from Italy—or, as my father would say, my mother came from Italy; my father's family came from Sicily. That's different. [(laughs)] And left the city to go to college. And—
MK: The Lower East Side?
TL: My parents were—
MK: Oh they were from—
TL: —raised in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I was raised in Queens.
MK: 00:01:45 In Queens.
TL: I didn't mention that. I'm sorry. I was raised in Astoria, Long Island City, and—. It's just the other side from Manhattan, the other side of the 59th Street Bridge—if people know the 59th Street Bridge.
MK: Tell us a few words about the neighborhood—
TL: Well, it was—
MK: About something that sticks in your mind about growing up there.
TL: The neighborhood was concrete playgrounds. It was an area of row houses—three—story row houses. And it was a great place to grow up. And I love the city, although I haven't really been in the city or lived there since I was sixteen, but gone back frequently, certainly with lots of aunts and uncles and cousins who lived there and now have scattered to the four winds. So there are very few people left from my extended family in Queens. But it was great. Went to school—went to high school at Stuyvesant High School and then went on to college at Rensselaer—RPI—in Troy, New York, one of the garden spots of the world. And—but never have gone back to live in New York City. I came to Boston—came to Boston once while I was at RPI for one winter semester break. I loved the place.
MK: You loved Boston?
TL: Loved it. And—but after—I don't know if you want me to keep going with my life story, but—
MK: Yeah. You're doing great. It gives us a sense of—
TL: Met my wife at college. I was a sophomore, and she was a freshman. And ended up, after RPI, going to Purdue for business school, while my wife was finishing her last year at RPI. When she—in her—when she graduated, she had been accepted to several doctoral programs, and she chose Berkeley, California, the University of California at Berkeley. So I was graduating from Purdue, from the Krannert School, and started looking for a job in the San Francisco Bay Area. My first job there was with the City of Oakland, California, as a budget analyst. And—
MK: So you'd been a business major—
TL: I'd been a business major, but really got convinced at that stage that I really wanted to go into government. I wanted to take my knowledge and skills, whatever, you know, whatever meager skills I had developed, and really wanted to focus on government—local government specifically. So that's where I was primarily looking.
MK: Why was that?
TL: 00:05:18 I think I got exposed somewhat to—during business school—to realizing that I wasn't going to be motivated by a corporate environment, that I was going to be much more motivated by the task of making local government function.
TL: Hard to explain, but my first job in the City Hall in Oakland, California, cemented that. The people I met, the people who mentored me, it all really came together and gelled. My wife—we got married three months after I went out to California. We both —and she started at Berkeley—we both came back East to be married. She's from Baltimore. We were married in Baltimore and then lived in Berkeley in an apartment for the next five years. She started out in a doctoral program, and she then decided that really wasn't what she wanted to do. It was in physiological psychology. She went—she took the law—the LSAT. She did very well. She got accepted to Berkeley Law, and we were in California then. While she was in law school, I was working for the City of Oakland. Somewhere along the way, we realized we weren't Californians, and we weren't becoming Californians. They're a different people. (laughs) It's—And so—and our family was back East, hers in Baltimore, mine in New York City. So we really had to think long and hard about leaving California, which we enjoyed—we enjoyed thoroughly—and it's beautiful and we had a great time. But when she graduated from law school, we had made the decision to come back East. She'd been with me on that trip to Boston that I mentioned while we were at college, at undergraduate. So we picked Boston to come back to. And that was at the height of the recession in 1974. There have been other recessions besides the one we just got through. [laughs] But we—so it was—
I left Oakland as the Assistant to the Finance Director. He was one of my mentors. And it was a great job. I—I—It was really hard to leave. But I was convinced that we were making the right choice. and it was the right juncture for us to make that choice. So we came back to Boston in the height of a pretty significant recession. Unemployment was quite high. It took her about six weeks to find a job. It took me three months. And my first job here was with the City of Boston as a budget analyst where I came in contact with people from the Municipal Association—used to—at that point was called the Massachusetts League of Cities and Towns. And the director at that time kind of stole me from City Hall in Boston. And it was an arrangement where Boston paid part of my salary for a while and— until the League could—could get a position. But that was a great situation for me because it exposed me to the whole state, everything that was going on in the state in terms of legislatively and working with the Legislature and working with lots of folks at the city and town level. And through that job, which I stayed in for four years, I got to meet folks around the Commonwealth, further cementing my conviction that it was the local level of government that I really wanted to focus my attention on. I went to—So after four years, I left the League job to attend the JFK School for a year, and so—to get a Public Administration Master's Degree—
MK: That's in Boston as well?
TL: It's at Harvard.
MK: At Harvard.
TL: The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. And that was a fourteen—month program, three, basically three semesters. And at the point that I was graduating, or coming to the conclusion of that program, there was a job advertised for Finance Director for the Town of Concord.
MK: 00:10:53 What director again?
TL: Finance Director.
MK: Finance Director.
TL: And I later found out it had—it was actually the second—When I saw it, it was the second posting of that job. They had gone through an earlier posting, and they hadn't found a candidate. And so I was responding to the second posting. Steve Schaeffer was the Town Manager at the time. He knew me. I didn't know him. He knew me because I'd been at the League of Cities and Towns for four years. I'd spoken at various events and functions. So he was quite familiar with me. I had no idea who he was. I knew very little about Concord other than the Revolution, Thoreau. I knew certain things about Concord, the typical things that everybody would know, but nothing about the town government. I remember my interview, which was back in 1980, where Steve, it seemed to me, did most of the talking, and I did most of the listening. [(laughs)] It was kind of a strange interview, but he offered me the job.
MK: On the spot?
TL: Pretty much on the spot, as I recall it. It might have been a day later. And I've been in the job then since 1980 until today. And I've thoroughly enjoyed it, and I hope contributed, but that's another—that will be for other people to decide. But it's been a great town to work in.
MK: What exactly did—was your job description? What does—doing what you do—what is it all about?
TL: Well, my position—full title is Finance Director and Treasurer—Tax Treasurer Collector. So the job encompasses everything about the financial affairs of the government, managing the cash, overseeing the accounting, collecting the taxes, handling the town's debt issuances, planning and executing bonding, maintaining the town's credit rating, developing and overseeing the town's annual budget—everything touching on matters relating to the public pocketbook. And so that's an expansive—I think of the job as, I do everything that the—that the Director of Finance in the City of New York would do in terms of scope, but on a more limited scale, and with the pleasure of having direct contact with lots of lots of citizens, which I expect that people in larger places don't enjoy, don't have that opportunity. So we're not insulated. You know, somebody walks into Town Hall, and they want to talk to me, I'm two feet away, and they have only one secretary to get past. And I find that very attractive.
MK: You like being accessible.
TL: Absolutely. And in a place where people are interested in what's going on. And in a place where people are very willing to devote their time and energy to the affairs of the town as well. There's literally hundreds of people at any given moment in this town who are volunteers in some way or another in the town government, on boards and committees, task forces. It's quite extensive, and over time, a fairly large proportion of the town—of the townspeople—are involved directly in their government. And that, to me, is what makes it work.
MK: 00:15:46 Did you know that about Concord when you took the job?
TL: I knew that about local government. I knew that about —I wanted to be in a smaller place rather than a larger place. But specifically about Concord, no. But it is true of lots of communities in New England. New England has a more direct feel of the people to their local government than—certainly than I experienced in California. I was up on the ninth floor at City Hall. Virtually nobody got to me. That's—! You know. With however many hundreds of people in the city government, and citizens have to negotiate a labyrinth to find out—to find out stuff they need to know. Of course that was before computers. That was before websites. That was before lots of tools that we now have to disseminate information, whether you're the City of New York or the Town of Concord. And so that's changed our ability to communicate. But, in addition to the ability to communicate, there has to be a willingness or an interest in communicating. And that's what we have at this kind of town government, which may not exist everywhere.
MK: But it's not unique, you say.
TL: It's not unique. There are plenty of towns in our area, in our neighborhood, and in New England especially, where I think this occurs as well, this level of interaction of citizens and the government. And I hope you have it where you are. (laughs) Well! And that's one of—that's one of the things that's kept it as—most days are fun. Some days are not! But that's one of the things that's kept it fun, enjoyable, you know something you look forward to every day that makes the job interesting. And I think that's shared, not by me, but by the rest of the people who work for the Town of Concord, by and large.
MK: So from 1980, has it been sort of smooth sailing all the way through or—?
TL: Oh, no. There are—there are always rocky points. There are points where communication breaks down. There are points of time where financial stress rears its head, and we have to get through some difficult—you know, difficult moments where nobody's happy and everybody's overtaxed. So that's happened. There have probably been about three episodes that I can think of, of real financial pressure, because of the broader economy and the impact it has on the local government—the impact it has on the state government and therefore the impact it has on the local government. That's probably happened three or four times at time intervals, this last one being the longest of course, when the markets collapsed and froze up in 2008. I think it was really 2013—early 2013—before, at our level, we saw some light at the end of that tunnel. But things like that have happened before. There have been a couple of periods when—when public confidence was shaky, for one reason or another and we've had—
MK: Confidence in—?
TL: —in their local government, in some aspect of their local government. The one that most readily comes to mind is the period of time in 2004 when there was a loss of confidence in the local assessing function, the function that values property for tax purposes, sets a property—a value on your house and says, "This is going to be the basis for your tax bill." Eighty percent of the town's money comes from property taxes, so that's a pretty important—a pretty important area of responsibility. And it's a pretty important area of—where public communication needs to be very, very healthy. And there was a time that we had to work ourselves through, where that wasn't completely the case.
MK: 00:21:11 Was this a gradual eroding of confidence—?
MK: Or a sudden—?
TL: It was a sudden. It was rather sudden. It was a—we've gone through a long period of time in the state where assessing practices overall, through all 351 cities and town, have been under increasing need for improvement, a multi—decade process. But we reached a juncture at that point where property valuations were dramatically changed, up or down, some up, some down. But the ones who went down, we didn't hear much complaining from—complaint from. The ones that went dramatically up, we heard a lot of complaints: "What happened? What's going on? How did you do this?" And it wasn't completely clear at that juncture that the process had worked. And so it's—The numbers, when they changed dramatically from one year to the next, you're going to get public attention. And when you get public attention, you have to be prepared to explain. And if you can't explain adequately, then you have to go back and review your whole program from the bottom up, and that's what we did.
MK: So some properties went down and some went up?
TL: A lot—by a lot. Not by a little, by a lot. In one—it was as if the entire model had changed, because any time you're valuing property—and I didn't list when you asked me originally what the Finance Director's job was—well, part of the Finance Director's job is to supervise the assessing function.
MK: Oh, so you were directly—
TL: Oh, boy, was I.
MK: Caught up in this.
TL: Yes. (laughs)
MK: I was wondering what you're—
TL: Why am I talking about this? (laughs) I don't—there is a Board of Assessors that's responsible for setting values. So the town Finance Director has nothing to do with setting values. In fact, the law sets a barrier. It's solely the responsibility of the local Board of Assessors, who are citizens. It's a five—member board of citizens appointed by the Town Manager. And at this particular juncture, the Board couldn't explain itself adequately. The Board had a—the Board has a professional Assessor, and for whatever reason, the model was substantially changed going from one year to the next. When I say model, assessing is about looking at sales that have actually occurred and trying to figure out why a buyer paid a particular price to a particular seller and what were the elements of the structure and the property that led to that price being the sale price. And you model the construction, quality, condition, you model the land, how much land, what, you know, where, and the location of the property. They tell you about in Assessing 101 that there are three elements of assessing: it's location, location, location. If you put a given house on a certain spot of land, and if you move that house to another spot of equally sized land but in a different location, there'll be two different values, because where the house—what the house is, is part of the value. Where the house is, is another part of the value. Think of having your house in the middle of a nice wooded quiet street versus having that same house next to a highway. Which one would you pay more for?
MK: 00:25:46 Well, I like quiet.
TL: Okay. Most people do. And so—but part of the value is how—what is the house? How big is it? Does it have ten bedrooms and only one bathroom? Or does it have four bedrooms and three bathrooms? You'd probably want to have more bathrooms if you had that many bedrooms and so forth. So it's all—it's lots of different characteristics of every structure that you drive past, and where it is and in what—in what place it is. Maybe the schools in a given community are known to be very good. So that same structure on the same amount of land in another town where the reputation of the schools is not as good, again, might affect the price that somebody's willing to pay for it. So all of these are looked at, and in any given year, you're looking at the most recent sales only. Can't look at sales twenty years ago, so you're looking at the most recent sales. And there might be maybe three percent of the number of houses were actually sold during the course of the last year, but you have to value all of the houses. And you only have three percent of the houses where you have sales—actual sales data that you use. And so you have to model based on those actual sales, the characteristics of those properties, and then extend your model to the other ninety—seven percent of properties that didn't sell. And most people when they're living—I've lived in my house for thirty—five years. I know what I paid for it thirty—five years ago. I don't really pay much thought—until I'm getting ready to sell it—I'm not going to be paying much thought to, "Gee, what's—what would I get if I sold it today?" People don't live in a house and ask that question every day of themselves. They ask it when they're ready to sell. And then hopefully they're pleasantly surprised.
But every year, the assessors tell them, here's what we think your house would get today if it sold. And so, they may agree or they may disagree. But that's the job of the Assessors, to tell the taxpayer every year, here's the market value—here's our best estimate of the market value of your house for this year, because the tax bill—the total town tax bill—is distributed among all the properties in town according to the value. So if you—if your value goes up, and your neighbor's value goes down—assessed value—goes down, what's going to happen? Your tax bill will go up. Your neighbor's will go down. You might not think that's fair. You might think, "Well, my neighbor and I have the same house on the same lot size. What'd they do? And you may bring a pitchfork and torch to the Town Hall, saying, "Explain!" [laughs]
MK: Were you aware, as the Board of Assessors was working, that they were coming up with very different numbers? Was this a surprise to you, in other words?
TL: 00:29:38 It was a lesson learned. It was—it was a surprise. And it was a surprise to members of the Board who maybe hadn't perceived what the impact of the model change was going to be. So that has led to a lot of improvements so the—over the last ten years in the process. The function is—the task is always to model the market as best we can annually. That's the state law. We have no choice. We can't just fudge it. But to do much more pre-examination of—okay, what are the outcomes? What are the results? Right now we're going through yet another valuation. It's an annual valuation, but once every three years, the state comes out to actually do onsite inspection. The state does desk inspection back in Boston, or Springfield, or wherever they are. They do paper inspection every year, but once every three years, they do a—what they call a recertification. They come out actually onsite. They look at our records onsite.
They go out into the community with their own Assessors and do their own valuations and look at what numbers we've come up with against the numbers they've come up with. And they make—so they make—it's quite a comprehensive testing. So we're going through that recertification this year. It's one of the triennial years. And we have pretty stable results across town except for one neighborhood, one area which is going to see an increase that's—in their relative value—an increase in their value, which is greater than the increase overall, would result in their bills being higher. And so the task now is to understand that, to understand that ahead of time, to make sure every member of the Board has understood the outcomes of their model this year, and to proceed to communicate directly with those taxpayers ahead of time, and to give them advance notice, to give them much more of an opportunity either to understand why the Assessors have come to these conclusions, or to object and present other evidence that the Assessors—that the Board might consider in making their judgments. It'd be wonderful if this was a completely perfect world and everything we did was completely perfect. It isn't. So this process of asking—of making sure the people who are going to be significantly affected have an opportunity to know that ahead and have an opportunity to talk to the people who are making these valuation decisions—determinations—ahead of time, to share information, is much more productive than just putting it out on the street and waiting for it to blow up. So that's what—so we learned a lot of lessons.
MK: So there's a clear—cut system of appeals?
TL: There is. There is a clear—cut process in state law and that—and there is a great deal of—a great deal more information that is put out now than was ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago for citizens to use to understand how we got to the number, and to understand the process of how they should proceed if they want to discuss it.
MK: Because I don't suppose the average homeowner has thought at all about how the—how complex it is, first of all. What you just outlined to me sounds very complicated, where the—is there a good school nearby? Where is this place located?
MK: All of these details that go into this mysterious formula.
TL: Right. And it's—it isn't mysterious. I could sit here in thirty minutes and show people all the calculations by hand, but in total, it looks very mysterious. So, that's what we need to address, demystify it, and we do that by putting information in their hands. The same information that we have is—should be in anybody's hands. Of course information, without then talking to us, sometimes isn't helpful. I mean, if I just gave you—oh, let's say I gave you the printout of the town's general ledger, just sheets and sheets of numbers. You probably wouldn't be able to do much with it. You probably wouldn't want to. But if you want to ask me a question, and I give you an answer, the old Socratic method, that tends to work much more successfully. So we don't—even though we put all this information out—we don't expect people to be able to absorb it. We also have a session that is annual, but that they've planned for later this year, in this particular cycle, of a public forum, where the Assessors will just be available. They will present in fifteen minutes the outline of what this year's values are all about in broad terms and then be available for anybody to raise questions, or talk about it, or understand it more deeply by Q&A.
MK: 00:36:35 Does the Board of Assessors ever have to defend its findings in court?
TL: Oh, sure. I mean, there are situations where some taxpayer will think, "Well, I'm right." And the Board of Assessors will think, "Well, we're right." And in those situations, that's why you have courts. And you have—we have a level before courts, which is—in Massachusetts—which is called the Appellate Tax Board.
MK: A kind of mediation?
TL: It's a state board that—yeah, you could think of it as a mediator. But they're not mediating in the sense of—they're just making a decision. They listen to our argument: Here's why we think the value is—our value is correct. They listen to the taxpayer: "Here's why I think they're wrong, and I think instead, I think it should be X, and will present all the facts." And there is kind of—it's kind of like a judge without a jury. Think of it that way. The person—the Commissioner, he's called—will make a decision. "Nope, the value is this." And you know—And sometimes the Commissioner will say, "And here's why." Sometimes not. (laughs) If a taxpayer still is aggrieved after that process, yes, then they can go to court, but in fact no judge is going to listen to that. The law pretty much sets—in fact, I'm probably wrong on that. They can't go to court. The Appellate Tax Board is the end of the line. I suppose if somebody—I suppose there could be a circumstance where somebody could go to court, but it couldn't be—it couldn't be just about disagreeing about the value. It would have to be something more substantial. At any rate, there is a process. We hope that it's sparingly used, because it really represents a breakdown in communication, because these are fact—based decisions ultimately. There is not a certainty in any value that's set. Somebody can tell me, "Well, you could get $500,000.00 for your house." Well, that's today. Tomorrow it could be different. And next month it could be different. And in fact, the realtors will tell you that sometimes it just depends on what part of the year you're selling at, or if it's a rainy day or a sunny day, or if it's—or if there were three other—if there are three other people trying to sell a house in the same location, the same general vicinity, at same time. So it's—as you point out—there's a lot of variables go into what any buyer pays to any seller. And so the standard is actually a range. The standard says, "Here's the value that the Assessors have set." And we expect that it's going to be within plus or minus ten percent of the true value, whatever that is.
MK: Well, that's hitting pretty close.
TL: 00:40:12 Well, we think that's hitting pretty close, but a taxpayer might think that's not very close at all, so that's where you get into some things that need to be settled by another—by a third party. But hopefully that's rare. But in this particular year that I'm talking about—
MK: In 2004?
TL: —2004—we had, oh, about forty or fifty go to the Appellate Tax Board stage, which is a very large number for a small town, where normally you'd see three or five or seven such cases. You know, so that was something we had to work through. Again, most of the process has been a process of public information and making sure that we reach out directly whenever we have a circumstance where we know what we've done, we know how we've come up with our number, and there's a certain segment of a neighborhood where we have to go talk directly to those people because we know they're going to be substantially affected, and for the general public, making sure that they have access to all the information all the time. That's not true just about assessing. That's true about the town budget as well or anything else that's related to the money side of the business. We want to make sure that people have access to the information and can ask questions, and feel comfortable asking questions. Usually I don't ask a question because I feel stupid. I feel like my question's stupid, or I'm not sure if it's stupid or not. So I keep quiet. But we need to—in this business we need to keep encouraging people to ask questions.
MK: What other dicey areas to public finance do you confront? Well, I was thinking there must be—you must require tremendous planning for a Town Meeting. You must really have to have your ducks in a row.
TL: Well, we have an open Town Meeting form of government. We have a—where any registered voter of the town can come and be a voter at the Town Meeting. The Town Meeting is a legislative body. So it's not like Election Day where we all go to vote for President or Governor or—we are citizens voting at that point on a ballot. The Town Meeting is a Legislature. It's like the state—it's like the State Legislature, or it's like Congress, where—the difference being, we elect representatives to go to Boston, to go to the state house, and in open Town Meeting forum, which a number of communities still have in Massachusetts and New England, any registered voter shows up and is a legislator. So that's a wonderful thing. It's also very challenging, because to—we need to make sure that we're putting all the information they need into their hands. So, yes, there's a lot of— a lot that goes into that—a lot of preparation that goes into that—aided by, as I alluded to before, lots of citizens who are very active and very knowledgeable in their local government. So, there is a very substantial core of residents in town who are committed to be legislators in this local setting. And we're just—you know, the hired help—is just that. We're just the hired help.
MK: So when the Town Meeting gets underway, you're never sure really what the major issues are going to be, or—?
TL: Oh, we have a pretty good sense. We've had public hearings before the Town Meeting. In our structure, the Warrant, or the list of—a list and description of items that are going to be voted upon—is issued about three months before the Town Meeting—the annual Town Meeting. For a special Town Meeting, it's a much shorter framework. But for the annual Town Meeting, it's about three months between the time that the list of items is put in front of people, by being mailed to every household, and the time—and the event itself, which usually runs three or four nights. So there's been a lot of preparation, a lot of information, a lot of public discussion before we get to the actual Town Meeting sessions. And we know from that input where—we usually know where the most—most serious or divisions are going to be, which articles are going to get the most attention. We call them articles. I think it's—
MK: 00:46:37 Warrant articles—it's like an agenda, though?
TL: Right. It's an agenda. It's an agenda, but the article is the text that's to be voted upon. Or it's the general text. And then at Town Meeting, you have motions made under those articles to put the text of the article into the form of an actual vote. And it's run by a Moderator. The Moderator is elected. But for—and it's the culmination for the staff—the Town Manager, all the department heads who are involved with the process—it's a high point of the year.
MK: Well, you sound to me like quite the survivor. Thirty-four—You're in your thirty—fourth year, it sounds like, in this position, and you've survived a lot of different administrations. Is that the way to talk about it?
TL: Actually, the degree of stability in this town, in its governance, has been extraordinary. And in that, it really is quite unique. I have worked in Concord for thirty—four years but for only three Town Managers in that span of time. There are other towns in Massachusetts where Town Managers themselves last for a year or two, where there's a lot of transition in the—at the upper levels of administration. That's not true here.
MK: Three—only three in thirty—four years?
TL: And in our—we've had a—we voted the Town Charter in 1957—'56—I should know this by heart—but I think it was '56. So we are more than fifty years of the Town Charter. We had a Town Governance Study Commission—Committee, excuse me—Town Governance Study Committee work since April of 2013, just released their report after fifteen months of work, reviewing how well the Town Government structure is working—not necessarily how Town—what's referred to as a strong Town Manager form of government, where the Selectmen—elected Selectmen—hire the Town Manager. And the Town Manager has responsibility under the charter for hiring and firing of all town government employees, exclusive of schools, which are the School Committee's domain and the School Superintendent. But everything that's not schools is under the Town Manager. And the Town Manager has substantial authority, reports to the Selectmen.
We've had that form of government since—as I said—since the Charter was adopted in 1956, I think we've had six Town Managers in all, in that span of time. So a great deal of stability in the leadership and exceptional people in the elected positions over the years. We have a tradition in Concord which I feel has been very important in our success, that elected and appointed board members serve three—year terms, serve maximally two three—year terms, or six years in total, and then do not run again or do not seek reappointment to the same board. You may see them in other—pop up on other boards—as appointed to other boards—but in a given board or a given elected position, someone serves six years, and they don't—they don't run perpetually. It's—so we think of term limits, but without any real—there's nothing written that says we have term limits.
MK: 00:51:26 How does—given the level of greed in the human makeup—how does that work? How has that been able to—?
TL: Well, I think because the authority—the level of interest is so broad in the community to participate, and everybody has—there are a couple of rare exceptions. I can think of a situation where a School Committee member had to run for a third term because at that moment in time there was nobody else running. And I'm saying there's a broad interest, but there's no—even for elected office, it's still hard. For elected office, it's still hard sometimes to find people willing, because they have to devote a great deal of time and effort to those positions. But even there, it's been very rare that somebody has had to extend more than six years. But it's—it's also, I think, a level of confidence overall that only—that only—that someone else can come along and fill that seat well, but also that the government itself administratively is stable.
I have annual appointment actually. My appointment is annual by the Board of Selectmen. And I've had thirty—four annual appointments. I've never been concerned. It's not—(laughs) All they want is a job well done. It's not a political environment. So the current Town Manager has been here for twenty—two years. All the Selectmen want from him is a job well done. He's not buffeted by political factions. And that's true up and down the line in the Concord government. It may not be true everywhere. I'm not sure. But probably not. Probably not! So I think that's contributed greatly, the fact that we have had a number of—we have a number of people in the community who have served in various capacities, including elective office, but we don't have somebody in elective office for twenty years. And we don't have somebody on a committee for twenty years. I work with a fifteen—member Finance Committee. The Finance Committee members are—in accordance with our Charter—are appointed by the Town Moderator. The Town Moderator is elected. He's elected—he or she is elected annually. And even the Moderators have served—in that six— to eight— to nine—year range, you can get a Moderator serving. The Moderator runs the Town Meeting and does all the planning and preparation work. But the Moderator appoints the Finance Committee, fifteen citizens. Their job is kind of oversight of the town's finances and making recommendations to the Town Meeting about actions, and they're very, very important to—certainly my success and the town's overall success. They serve no more than six years.
MK: But they're staggered.
TL: Staggered terms, three—year terms, no more than two of them, and then they go do something else. Again, they—some of them often—often a candidate from—someone who's leaving the Finance Committee will run for School Committee or will run for a Selectman seat. They've gotten—accumulated a lot of knowledge, then they use it for the next position. Often you'll see—in this town—you'll see a former Selectman who then becomes a member of the Public Works Board or the Recreation Commission or anywhere else that we have these citizen boards and committees that are helping, assisting, the Town Management in running the town successfully. So the fact that I have lots of alumni of past Finance Committees still living in town and all—it's a great, great support network and a great attribute of the town.
MK: A great resource.
TL: 00:56:40 A great resource. And even after they've finished their six years on the Fin Com, most of them—many of them—remain very deeply interested and active in town affairs. So it's been a huge number of people making a large commitment of their time. And I think part of the reason they do that is because they have confidence that this is a worthwhile thing to do, and that it's—and they have confidence in us for the most part, those of us who are sitting and getting a paycheck.
MK: You yourself are a resident then of—?
TL: No, I live in Newton, or sometimes I say I sleep in Newton. (laughs) Probably spend more time in Concord than I do in Newton! But, no, I've not been a resident of the town. That has not diminished my love for it.
MK: Well, I don't want to keep you here endlessly, but I'd like to hear you talk a little bit about how Concord has changed in thirty—four years.
TL: Mmm. The town physically probably has not changed as much as other places. There are—I think when I—in 1980 there were probably about forty—five hundred residential units. There are over six thousand now. So in that respect, there's been a lot of growth. And yet, if you look at the geography of the town, there's still a great deal of open space. You can go out on the river—if you're ever here and you take one of the riverboat cruises at the South Bridge Boat House, and you go out on the river, it's almost like you're in the middle of wilderness. You will see a house here and there from the river—on the river's edge—but it is just amazing how much of Concord has been preserved. Or because it's wet, because we have two rivers coming in and one going out, there's a great deal of wetland, the river and the wetlands can't be built on. So that's kind of a blessing.
So there has been a lot of growth, a lot of construction, but the town fundamentally, from my view, has not changed in its look, and feel, and openness. When I started driving into Concord—the first time I came for my interview—I remember the feeling of—you pass the sign that says, "You're entering Concord," and I remember the feeling that, "Wow, this is different!" You cross from one place to another, and you get the feeling it's different. And really, that feeling is still there today, in terms of the overall feeling of what it's like to be in this town. Maybe other people feel about their towns that way also. I don't know. In terms of everything else of course, vast change. In the way that people interact with the government, vast change. In the technology that we have used, vast change. I mean, in 1980, we thought it was great if we had an electric typewriter. And then, late '80s, along came computers, and we said, "Well, this isn't really going to change anything." And then in the mid—about in the mid '90s, we started realizing, boy, it was changing a lot. And now it's just exploded. The amount of direct and daily contact that we have to pay attention to is enormous. It used to be—I remember my first round of tax collecting—of tax collections. And the day after the tax due dates, somebody called saying, "I want to see if you got my check." And the—at that point—my assistant—I barely knew her, but my assistant—said, "Well, call us back in a month." And now if people pay online, they can see it immediately. And if they happen to still be sending us a check, they want to be able to go online within twenty—four hours and see that we—that we credited it. So the expectations are vastly different.
The tools are different—we didn't have these tools—but with the tools has come a sea change in expectations. And that's good. There's nothing wrong with that. But people expect immediate information and immediate response. So, every day—I'll exaggerate just for effect—but literally every day we have to pay attention to, "Am I dealing with something right now? Do I have something in my hand right now that the general public needs to have as well? And how do I communicate it to them?" I don't spend my time asking all those questions, because now it's becoming ingrained. It's a natural response. "Oh, here's what I do. I want half a million people to know this. I better get a tweet out or something like that." Just the kinds of ways that we have to deal with disseminating information and interacting with people is amazing. Now, that's not specific to Concord of course. It's happened everywhere. But I can still go on websites of other towns and find virtually nothing. Or take an example of a neighboring New England state, there are plenty of smaller towns in the northern tier states that don't even have websites. If you wanted public information, I suppose—I don't know where you'd go—you'd go to the library, I suppose, the old—fashioned way. Well, there's nothing old—fashioned about this library. But people expect not only to go to the reference desk and be able to look at the town budget, but they also expect it to be online electronically, and they expect instant access to information. And so that's generally a healthy thing. It's created a lot more demands on us. It used to be kind of a lazy thing where we could say, "Call us back in a month." (laughs) Now we can't say that. So that's changed. How has Concord changed? Well, Concord's voters—Concord's residents—have always had high expectations, and they've just gotten higher. And nothing wrong with that.
MK: 01:05:04 Keeps you on your toes, doesn't it?
TL: It does, and the number of people who walk in to the Town Hall—it's right in the center of town, so it's still—it's very accessible. We get a lot of traffic—of citizens— some who want to pay their—who have to transact business at the counters, whether it's with the Town Clerk or with the Collector, but lots of people who just want to say hello. And that's nice, too.
MK: Well, after thirty—four years, what—if you were writing a novel, or if you could wave a wand, how would you change the government in a town of this size so that it was even more effective, even more efficient, even more responsive?
TL: Hmm. Well, it's going to happen. We've been catching up to the technology. We aren't expert at it. We've all had to learn. As I said, I started with thinking, "Wow, electronic typewriter. Wow, they gave me an electronic typewriter. Isn't that wonderful?" So we've had to keep catching up to the new tools that were being given to us, to know what to do with them. I suppose—how could we improve? We can make an effort to hire people—to keep hiring people—who have these skills. And kids today have gotten it from—from the time they were this—crawling around on the rug. So those are the people who are going to make the change that we haven't quite caught up to. We're doing our best, but we've had—but there's been a great deal of transition over the past several decades—for everybody—and I think the people who will come after us will just—will have some innate skills that they'll start with.
How would I make things better? I think—it's a continuous process of, not dumbing down, but making things simpler. We all deal with complex information. And people don't have—the level at which I may understand something isn't a reasonable expectation to think that everyone is going to understand it at that same level. So I have to be able to find the ways to get down to the essentials, simplify the material to a point at which people can pick it up quickly, and then if they want to go deeper, they have the roots—they have the roots to go deeper. But if they have only ten minutes, they should still be able to understand what all the essentials are. So that's what I would guess would improve our work further if we could pay attention to that need for simplification more than we do.
MK: Well, this has been just great. Is there anything that you had wanted to talk about today that we didn't get to?
TL: No, I think—I think we covered anything that I had dreamed of. Ah.
MK: Well, thank you very much for coming.
TL: Very good. My pleasure.
01:09:09 (end of audio)