Six months in, Town Manager reflects on job
Friday, February 15, 2013
On March 4, Jessie W. Levine, Bedford’s town manager, will have been in office six months, and has set an 18-point goal to enhance services to Bedford in 2013.
The town manager is the CEO of the town and reports to the Town Council – the policy-making body. In her post, Levine manages the budgeting and ensures that programs and services are available to residents and businesses of Bedford. She was appointed by the council because of her educational background and reputation for reliability and accessibility to the public.
Levine was born and raised in Hopkinton. She graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in English and education. She worked for five years as a paralegal and for three years as a law firm manager in Boston before returning to New Hampshire to take a position as New London’s town administrator, a post she held for nearly 11 years.
In April 2011, Levine was named assistant town manager and human resources director for the town of Hanover. Now, she is one of Bedford’s most valuable resources and a person many have embraced as friendly, enthusiastic and well prepared for the challenges of the office of town manager.
Levine shared some of her reflections as she nears the six-month mark in Bedford, a town incorporated in 1750. Levine executes the policy decisions of the Town Council, and keeps the public informed about its decisions. The work load is tremendous, yet her door is always open.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: I love problem solving. I love figuring out the answers to complex questions and determining the best path to the best outcome, keeping in mind what is in the best interests of the town and its taxpayers.
Q: What is your greatest accomplishment since you have been at your post?
A: I’ve only been here five months, so in that short time my greatest accomplishment has been to deliver a budget to the Town Council. It is a budget that I think balances the needs of the departments to provide efficient and effective service with the needs of the taxpayers to be able to manage their expenses as we pull through these tough economic times.
Q: What would make your job easier?
A: A clone and a blank check! Just kidding, just kidding. But really, any town manager would say that it would be easier to have the ability to invest more in long-term capital projects, such as roads, bridges, buildings, technology and the like. Bedford voters approved an important bond in 2011 that is allowing the town to spend $13 million on its infrastructure, but that is only getting us part of the way there. I look forward to continuing the discussion about the community’s long-term needs.
Q: What do you think are Bedford’s most outstanding attributes?
A: The people. Although attendance at our public meetings is slim, I find that Bedford citizens and businesses want the best for their community.
I am particularly impressed by the investment in both private and public projects by the business and developer community. The shared approach to the Bedford Village Common, for example, shows how these partnerships can benefit the place in which we all live and work.
Q: What are a couple of your most memorable challenges?
A: Two hot issues that were on my desk when I started – and are still on my desk as I write this – are the dog park and the barn at the Educational Farm at Joppa Hill, both involving the question of how town property should be used.
It is always difficult to address subjects like these that mean a great deal to a potentially small group of people, and as a newcomer it has been difficult to get a sense of how important they are to the townspeople as a whole. I’ve had to make decisions based on my experience and judgment without a complete knowledge of the histories and personalities involved.
By way of quick update, the dog park question will go to the voters on the March 12 ballot and the town has begun the process of
terminating the EFJH lease due to EFJH’s failure to meet the lease terms, which include maintaining the buildings to avoid safety hazards such as those that exist now.
Q: What goals are you working toward?
A: I actually have 18 goals and objectives for 2013 that were agreed upon with the Town Council at the beginning of the year. They include some economic development projects, working on long-term capital and budgeting, and getting a better understanding of departmental operations and identifying areas of inefficiencies.
Q: If you could change one thing about Bedford, what would it be?
A: I wish that there were more sidewalks in Bedford. I think more people would be out of their cars if there were sidewalks because it would be safer to move around without being vehicle-dependent. I think that would be good for our businesses, our health and our interactions as a community.
Q: In your youth, did you have jobs that prepared you for what you’re doing today?
A: I am the oldest of five girls from two households, so I think that prepared me very well for this leadership role in which I have to get along with people with diverse backgrounds and address varied needs and wants that cannot always be met. I also think that the eight years I spent working in law firms gave me a useful ability to understand and apply the laws and regulations that affect municipalities and to navigate in legislative and legal environments.
Q: Do you have a secret of success or a favorite motto that applies to getting things done?
A: I keep the nutshell version of the Four Agreements of Don Miguel Ruiz taped to my computer monitor: speak with integrity, don’t take anything personally, communicate clearly, and always do your best.
Q: How do you like to spend your free time?
A: If I had all the time in the world, I’d spend more of it on my bicycle or hiking in the woods with my dog, a nearly 7-year-old German shepherd/pointer cross I’ve had for five years (and who just underwent ACL surgery at the Daniel Webster Veterinary Clinic).
There are some beautiful rural spots in Bedford and the rest of New Hampshire that help me find balance when I need it.