By: Brian Genest – Nov. 2021
Leadership and change begin at the top. In Dracut, you don’t have to look any further than the town manager for proof. In just 18 months, Ann Vandal has made a tremendous difference for our town.
As reflected in the strong scores she was given by a majority of the board on her recent performance review, Vandal is doing a great job.
And she did so in a tough environment.
She was hired by a divided board. She inherited a procurement scandal. She was forced to deal with all the ramifications of COVID-19 on town operations, employees and citizens.
Despite the circumstances and the challenges, thanks to her leadership, Dracut is in better shape than it has been in quite some time.
Overall, Vandal scored an impressive 3.9 on a scale of 1 to 5.
Here’s the performance rating she got from each selectman:
Joe DiRocco — 4.9
Alison Genest — 4.1
Jesse Forcier — 4.0
Tony Archinski — 3.4
Heather Santiago-Hutchings — 2.9
The majority of the board—DiRocco, Genest and Forcier—gave Vandal scores in the “Strong Performance” category.
During her public review, selectmen praised Vandal, her financial acumen and the leadership team she’s put together, among other things.
“I think you are doing a fantastic job with managing the town,” Chairman Alison Genest said. “You’ve surrounded yourself with some new hires that are strong folks. A true leader recognizes that you’re not going to be an expert in every area, but you’re hiring experts in those areas to make sure they’re bringing that knowledge to the board so you can make even more informed decisions.”
Forcier said he scored Vandal highest in the financial categories and echoed Genest’s comments about surrounding herself with a strong team.
“My score speaks for itself; I think you’re doing a fantastic job,” Forcier said.
Archinski, who voted against hiring Vandal, gave her a score in the “Satisfactory” category.
“My score ended up being 3.4, which I think is about right,” said Archinski. “But because I’m on the lower end of the scale, I don’t want you to think that I don’t appreciate what you do or that I don’t give you credit for what you do. I’ve given you above average performance on all of them, especially in the financial management, and I’m happy with your performance. I thought I gave you a good evaluation.”
Santiago-Hutchings gave the town manager a score in the “Needs Improvement” category.
“It’s also your first review period and I think I’m a tough grader, just by profession. A score from me that says you’re meeting expectations is a really solid, good score in your very first review period,” Santiago-Hutchings said. “You did do an incredible job through, you did two jobs, through Covid and just getting through daily operations was really an enormous feat, so I appreciate you.”
DiRocco, who gave the town manager a score just one-tenth of a point below the top category of “Excellent,” cited Vandal’s ability to navigate difficult situations, including the pandemic, staffing shortages and other challenges.
“I’ve seen the problems that you’ve gone through since you took over,” DiRocco said. “I’ve been here through a couple of other managers, but I think your problem solving, to me, was second to none, I really do. I think you’re going in the right direction and hopefully you’ll be here for a long time.”
Dracut would be lucky to continue with its current success at town hall.
Ratings aside, there’s a number of noteworthy accomplishments definitely worth noting:
• The town banked more than $10 million in free cash last year.
• Roads, sidewalks, culverts and other infrastructure projects are underway. and many more will be checked off the to-do list.
• Veteran housing is being built for the first time in a long time.
• Open space, preservation and conservation remain high priorities for the town.
• There’s a renewed focus on economic development.
• Morale at town hall is high.
• People in town are optimistic about our future.
Ann Vandal, with clear direction from selectmen and strong support from the townspeople, deserves a lot of the credit for that success.
Seeing Dracut be successful as the result of strong leadership is something we can all celebrate.
— Brian Genest is chairman of the Dracut Republican Town Committee and the host of Eye on Dracut on DATV Channel 8.