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Select Board gives Musante mostly positive evaluation

AMHERST — Describing the past year as “very successful” for Amherst, the Select Board Monday issued a preliminary performance review praising the leadership of Town Manager John Musante.

While individual members expressed some concern about Musante’s communication with the board, including its not having significant input in creating the Amherst Together initiative that aims to confront issues of race and equity, the board’s evaluation is largely positive. It cites Musante’s expertise in financial management, long-range planning, promoting economic development and building relationships with the University of Massachusetts.

“We appreciate the skill and creativity you have brought to your work at Town Hall,” Chairman Aaron Hayden wrote in the draft review. “We look forward to continuing the work to meet the old challenges and recognize the new (challenges) and, as importantly, we look forward to working with you next year.”

The review is based on performance goals the board adopted in September. Last month, Musante submitted a 14-page memo outlining his accomplishments, including getting the town’s bond rating upgraded to AA+ with a stable outlook, supporting development projects that enhance the tax base and provide student housing, and promoting the reuse of the East Street School as the new home for the Leisure Services and Supplemental Education department.

Board members praised Musante for his fiscal knowledge. “We are fortunate to have Mr. Musante’s thorough preparation of the budget,” Hayden wrote in his review.

Andrew Steinberg said Musante, who came to Amherst as its finance director, considers finances both strategically and long term. “It’s one of the incredible strengths he has brought to the town in both major positions he has held,” Steinberg said.

Musante was also recognized for devising a plan to protect affordable housing at Rolling Green Apartments. “Without the leadership of the town manager, we would have not been able to address the potential loss of the large number of affordable units at Rolling Green,” board member James Wald wrote.

Musante’s support for economic development was recognized by member Connie Kruger. “The manager embraces a forward-looking growth and development agenda which is positive for economic development,” Kruger wrote.

And while member Alisa Brewer was perhaps most critical, giving Musante unsatisfactory marks in some areas, she described him as doing work in a “confident, calm professional manner.”

Both Kruger and Brewer expressed frustration that the Amherst Together partnership between the town and schools was created without Select Board assistance. This “happened prior to a board discussion on the position and its relationship to the community issues it is intended to address,” Kruger wrote.

And Brewer said she believes that Musante continues to be unresponsive to emails from the Select Board, other committee members and the public. “This is an area of chronic underperformance that has been mentioned repeatedly and must be addressed,” she wrote.

The review marked the first time it includes evaluations by members who were not on the board when Musante was hired in 2010. Both Kruger and Steinberg were elected in March.

“I am favorably impressed with what has been accomplished this year,” Kruger wrote. “There is more work to be done, but given the practical limitations of financial and human resources, I think the town is in very capable hands.”

Steinberg wrote that Amherst is fortunate to have Musante. “We benefit from his long-term residence in Amherst and that his family was a part of our schools and a consumer of town services.”

The review will eventually be used as the basis for considering a raise and other benefits, although Hayden is not sure when this will happen. Last year, Musante was given a 2 percent pay increase boosting his annual salary to $144,942.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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