Almond says farewell as he exits Town Hall

Almond says farewell as he exits Town Hall

After more than 14 years as Lincoln town administrator, Joseph Almond is moving on to the Statehouse. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

LINCOLN – When Joseph Almond was elected as Lincoln’s town administrator in 2006, one of his main goals coming onto the job was proving the town could be managed in a better way.

“What I walked into was horrible dysfunction. It was messy,” he said.

“No one got along, there was infighting; nothing was getting done and the tax rate was climbing steadily. We hadn’t paved roads, all of our parks and playgrounds were ancient, our police station was undersized and completely non-functional. Our library was too small and our elementary schools were aging.”

Almond had run twice, unsuccessfully, in 2000 and 2002 before he was elected in 2006. More than 14 years after he first took office, he is starting a new chapter as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Dan McKee.

He described a culture of distrust festering at Town Hall and seeping out into the community at-large when he first took the office of administrator in January 2007.

The dysfunction went beyond poor management, he said. If a town councilor of the opposite political party asked for help with a constituent’s issue, their problem had less chance of being resolved.

“Everything breaks right down, and when it’s broken it’s really hard to fix,” he said. “I focused on saying, this can be fixed, I’m here to try to fix things that benefit the town.”

Setting out to prove that town management “doesn’t have to be caught up in party politics and personalities,” he said he got to work building a level of trust and respect with the Town Council, employees at Town Hall, local businesses and residents.

Councilors originally questioned whether Almond’s prior employment at Twin River Casino might preclude him from objectively dealing with the town’s largest commercial business. They accused him of undervaluing the casino on taxes because he worked there.

“The investigation proved the total opposite,” he said.

Early in his tenure, Almond helped set up a restricted fund of excess gaming revenues from the casino to be used on capital projects throughout town. By doing so, he said, Lincoln has been able to invest more than $100 million in capital projects, while only borrowing $63 million.

Prior to creating a capital plan for the town, he said decisions on capital projects were mostly arbitrary and as-needed. He pushed for a new senior center, a renovated animal shelter, doubling the size of the police station and putting an addition on the Lincoln Public Library.

He oversaw the reconstruction of each of the town’s sewer pump stations, updated each of the parks and playgrounds, signed off on school upgrades, and roughly $8 million in road repaving.

Between the large capital projects, Almond was busy building trust and addressing problems as they came up.

“Early on, people were surprised to get a call back from Town Hall,” he said.

Two years into his tenure, the country hit a recession and state funding was cut. By freezing wages and cutting new spending, Almond said Lincoln was able to come out of the recession in a relatively healthy position.

Almond said his time as town administrator has been marked by forward-planning, always asking, “what can we do in the next five years?”

While Almond said it can be tempting for a new administrator to reduce taxes, he said he “hopes to God” his successor embraces the policy of capping casino money to be used on capital projects.

“I believe the town is on a good track for another decade at least. I just pray they keep the capital money capped. The biggest danger to taxpayers in the future is not maintaining capital investments,” he said.

The work as town administrator is never finished. School buildings and town facilities will continue to age, and the needs, beliefs and backgrounds of the community will change, Almond said.

In many ways, he said a municipality is a living thing, shifting with time.

“Can I look back at the last 15 years here and be satisfied? Yes. Can I go to bed tonight and think of something else I should have done? Yes,” he said. “I could probably give you a list of mistakes as long as the accomplishments. At least once a week I make a mistake.”

More than anything, the outgoing administrator said he would have liked to be able to finish all of the pieces of the LHS project.

“I had expected to be there through to its completion. Seeing some of the back and forth over the past few weeks, I hope people can eventually see through that.”

Despite its challenges, Almond added, “it is a great project. How many cities and towns can say that you’d be happy walking in any of our schools?”

He said the successes of the last 15 years were made possible through a collective effort.

“I’m hesitant to sound boastful. I never stood and said, I did this or that. Everything we did was thanks to the community, the Town Council, the Budget Board, the School Committee. Everybody had a part. It’s always been we, not me.”

“My hope is that the people in town are satisfied,” he said. “It’s probably time for new ideas, too.”

Comments

The people elected you and this is a kick in the gut. We need leadership and not be deserted. Republican administrator leaves town high and dry for democratic governor for $154,000 a year

Thank you for your years of effective and dedicated service to this town! Well done!