How to Become Our Next Town Manager

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The power, the glamour, the joyrides in the police boat … I’m sure you’ve considered applying for the Town Manager position recently vacated by Robin Crosbie, right?

A hard act to follow, if you ask me. Robin served as Town Manager for five and a half years — 41 days longer than Richard Nixon served as President, and with even less scandal.

What next for us? The official guidelines released by the Town are clear — except they probably require a bit of interpreting. As follows:

  1. The Town Manager should be “confident, energetic, optimistic, and a strong communicator.”
  • “Confident” means we need somebody who is not afraid of citizens’ query time during Board of Selectmen meetings.
  • “Energetic” means someone who will not leave these meetings so emotionally exhausted that they barely have the energy to trudge home and open a bottle of Chardonnay.
  • “Optimistic” means someone who can listen to an utterly inane question from a hostile citizen and see the silver lining — saying to oneself, for instance: “There may actually be a 50-50 chance that I’ll outlive this person.” Or: “Every minute I sit here listening to this person is another minute my spouse is home dealing with cat puke.” (I only use a sick cat as an example. The new Town Manager may have all manner of alternative household issues to avoid.)
  • And “strong communicator” means someone who can hear the same question multiple times and emphatically repeat the same answer multiple times without giving in to the urge to scream, screech, squawk, or otherwise ruin the audio on ICAM’s live stream.
  1. The new Town Manager must also “demonstrate prior success in leading a complex municipal organization,” the guidelines go on to say. There is no specific definition for “complex,” but it may be a sort of code word for “Hope you’re okay with our 20 boards, 6 commissions, 33 departments, 18 committees, 4 subcommittees, and 25 separate webpages of policies and regulations.” (Warning to all candidates: Drop the ball on #16, “Sewer Betterments,” and you’re out. Also, please prepare to memorize #6, “Determination of Defense Posture When Town Is Named as Defendant.”)
  2. This job is demanding. “The Town Manager must be a visionary and decisive leader who can work collaboratively with the various interests of Ipswich,” the guidelines state. This would be simple, except for the “visionary and decisive” part, and the “work cooperatively” part, and the “various interests” part. Some various interests want the Town Manager’s vision to encompass wonderful advances for our Town, other various interests envision a restoration of what was wonderful about Ipswich a generation ago. Try working cooperatively with those two groups. I guess this is where “decisive” comes in. You have to decide whom to infuriate, and then keep smiling and nodding while they scream, screech, squawk, and otherwise shred you on ICAM’s live stream.
  3. The guidelines do include some seeming anomalies. There’s a bit about the Town Manager being expected to work with “citizens and volunteers.” I never realized these were distinct categories in Ipswich. I’m surprised to learn that we use only non-citizens as volunteers. This puts a whole new twist on the issue of illegal immigration. But at least we can rest assured that the new Town Manager will sort it all out for us.
  4. The end of the guidelines makes me a little nervous, I admit. This is where it says “The Town Manager should have a visible public presence and be highly approachable.” If someone doesn’t have a visible public presence, they’re invisible, right? Which is just spooky. (Plus, if you’re invisible, nobody can approach you anyway, so we can just lose the “be highly approachable” part.) I’m thinking if Ipswich lands an invisible Town Manager, we’ll rival Salem for tourists at Halloween, which has got to be good for downtown businesses. But the rest of the year, in Board of Selectmen’s meetings, won’t it be hard to know exactly where to aim our screaming, screeching, and squawking?

The job is listed at $164,000 but negotiable. I think it’s worth more. Marty Walsh gets $175,000, and managing the factions in Boston can’t be half as exhausting as navigating the factions in Ipswich. Yes, Boston is four years older than Ipswich, but we’ve held on to more of our grudges.

If you’re interested in the Town Manager job, I’d be happy to hear from you via TownManager?Who?Me?@DougBrendel.com. You know what they say: If you don’t apply, you can’t complain. Oh, wait — If you do apply, but you don’t get the job, yes, you can complain. Never mind. We have enough complaining already.

 

 

Doug Brendel maintains his largely invisible and unapproachable lifestyle on outer Linebrook Road. But you can peek, and interact, by following him here. Click “Follow.”

 

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You Don’t Look a Day Over Eisenhower

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I feel badly about this. Here it is, the start of a new year, and my house turned 200 years old this past year, and we didn’t even have a party.

We thought about it, we really did. We talked about it, how fun it would be to have all the other houses over, and the birthday cake, and maybe a piñata. But then life got so complicated and busy. You know how it goes. At the beginning, after the wedding, you’re young and in love, and you imagine all the great things you’ll do when you have a house of your own: trips to the park, to let your house play on the swings — who can go higher, your 1817 Federal or the contemporary from Charlotte Road? All the little houses will play in the sandbox, pretending to dig foundations for new construction, even though they don’t really understand yet where new little houses come from. And they’ll ride the merry-go-round till somebody’s toilet backs up.

But then you actually get your house, and it’s just overwhelming. There are mortgage payments and calls to the electrician and how to arrange a house-sitter on short notice when they call a snow day. And you keep putting off the birthday party, telling yourself that you’ll get those invitations out tomorrow, and before you know it, your house is almost 201.

It really was a simpler time back then, when our house was born. President James Madison had just retired, President James Monroe had just been sworn in with only one dissenting vote in the Electoral College, the War of 1812 had been fought to a draw, Americans were hopeful. The future seemed bright. It was the perfect environment for starting new little houses. A carpenter named Timothy Morse Jr. stood at the front of his several hundred acres, on Linebrook Road between Leslie and Lillian (the streets, not the women they were named for) and said to himself, This will be a good place to raise a house. He put up a standard two-over-two-room structure, with a fireplace in each of the four rooms, then enlarged it by dragging a small 1797 barn from elsewhere on the property and attaching it to the new house.

By the time of the Civil War, the house was really just a child, in house-years. By Ipswich standards, the house was still only a teenager during World War I. After all this house has lived through over the past two centuries, it probably deserved a birthday party. People living in this house likely complained about John Quincy Adams stealing the election of 1824, and were scandalized by Grover Cleveland marrying a woman less than half his age. This house survived the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition and all 86 years of the Boston Red Sox World Series curse. Think of how many Ipswich town managers this house has seen come and go. All of them, actually.

But this year was special. Even in Ipswich, with more First Period homes than any other town in America, it’s not every day that a house turns 200. After a heavy rain, I look at the younger houses in my neighborhood pumping water out of their basements, and I realize, with no small measure of pride, that my house is from good stock. The way it got to be 200 years old is by somehow standing where the water runs around it instead of through it, so it doesn’t flood and rot. It’s the real estate equivalent of a healthy immune system.

So yeah, after 200 years, a birthday party would have been nice, in the same way you throw your grandma a birthday party when she hits 90, just to celebrate the fact that she’s still available to party. But to be honest, when we thought about inviting other houses over for our house’s 200th, I got nervous. You know, the classic party-host anxiety: Will anybody show up? Will the houses born in the 1600s want to come to a party for such a young whippersnapper? Will a 1700s High Street mansion bother to come all the way to outer Linebrook to celebrate such a recent run-of-the-mill residence?

We’ll never know. We didn’t throw a party. Instead, we observed our house’s 200th birthday quietly, with just the family, here at home. Nothing too crazy. Yes, we popped a bottle of Drano, and everyone giggled as the kitchen sink guzzled it. But then it was off to bed — for the 73,000th night in a row.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, grateful that nobody tore down his house in the 200 years before he got to it. Follow Doug by clicking “Follow.”

 

Keen for Green

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I am really happy with the new bright green line along the edge of Linebrook Road. This is a classy-yet-totally-New-England-appropriate touch for our town. I don’t know exactly how the green line came about, but I feel pretty certain that the Design Review Board must have had something to do with it. My wife Kristina used to sit on the Design Review Board, so I know how committed they are to not only preserving the historic look and feel of the Ipswich milieu, but also keeping us on the cutting edge. It was the Design Review Board, for example, that arranged for the Route 1 face of the new Tractor Supply Company building to be so pretty, just like the earliest colonial tractor supply people would have made it.

The green line on Linebrook Road is, in the same way, attractive but also historically appropriate. In the earliest days of our town, cows made paths as they grazed, and the paths became brown and muddy, with green grass remaining at the edges of the mud. What was once a cow path is now Linebrook Road, and our new green line is situated in more or less the same position as the original green grass line. I’ll ask town historian Gordon Harris to confirm this, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

The green line on Linebrook Road is also highly functional, providing a clear space where bicyclists can do their bicycling. This is a hugely important safety feature, because of the threat of bicyclists crowding cars off the road. I’m also grateful for the new Day-Glo yellow signs featuring a cartoon of a bicycle followed by the admonition “Share the Road.” I certainly hope the bicyclists will comply. I would feel even safer if the town would add a third line, in Day-Glo red, inside the green line, to guarantee adequate space for very small cars, like mine.

Plus, think about this: Boston has a Green Line, and now we do too. This is progress. See? Year after year, there’s more and more stuff right here in Ipswich that you don’t have to go to Boston for.

I’m glad to see Ipswich taking the lead on this trend. As far as I can tell, we’re among the first of all North Shore towns to feature multi-colored lines along the edge of the road. Let’s not stop here. Since we already have a couple yellow lines down the middle, in addition to the white and green lines on the edge, I think a wiggly fluorescent purple line down the middle of each lane in the Doyon school zone would be a nice touch as well. For deer crossings, we could add an attractive blue line that cuts across all lanes. And maybe an orange line that zigzags all over the place for turkeys.

Of course we shouldn’t be disappointed if other towns copy our forward-thinking road-painting strategy. It won’t surprise me at all to see Hamilton marking horse-trotting lanes in upscale taupe, or Rowley using pink paint to indicate permit-free business zones. But we’ll still have the satisfaction of knowing we were first.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on the double-yellow single-white no-green section of outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”

 

Get Your Crosbie Gear Here!

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Thou Shalt Love TMgr

Full disclosure: Before you read a column about our soon-to-depart Town Manager, you should know this fact — Robin Crosbie is a friend of mine.

Not that I ever got any special favors at Town Hall by being a personal friend of the Boss Lady. No. This would never happen in the strictly-business Crosbie era. Sure, we’ve been social acquaintances. And yes, we’ve thrown back a few glasses of something harmless together, and I confess, I may have picked up the tab a time or two. And okay, yes, that goldfish in her office was a gift from my daughter. And yes, her super-secret wedding photos were released exclusively by The Outsidah at Outsidah.com, after I pleaded with her husband and plied him with bottles of cabernet sauvignon. But I assure you, I was not sucking up. And I promise you, I never got any advantage from my relationship with the Town Manager. I was never able to get a traffic ticket fixed, or a free pass to Chowderfest. And on those few occasions when I asked for insider information in order to get some sort of Town business conducted more smoothly or simply or quickly, I guarantee you I didn’t get any special treatment. I got the same official response that any citizen has come to expect at Town Hall: “Ask Jen Breaker.”

But because Robin has served admirably for more than five years, and because she’s a friend, it follows that I should want to do something nice for her as she leaves. And of course, if I can make a buck on it, too, so much the better. This is, after all, Trump’s America.

Accordingly, I’m in the process of formulating a line of Robin Crosbie Commemorative Memorabilia, which I hope to sell through numerous Ipswich retail outlets.

Please understand that this is my idea, not Robin’s. Robin is in no way a publicity hound; she is simply a dedicated public servant who happens to have a high-profile job. I actually image she would rather I not release a line of Robin Crosbie Commemorative Memorabilia. (If I had only asked her in advance. Which I didn’t. Because I knew what she’d say. And it wouldn’t be “Ask Jen.”) But I have forged ahead.

I haven’t locked in all the products and specifications yet, so I’ll welcome your feedback on which of these fine items you’re likeliest to go for. Think Christmas presents.

  1. The official Robin Crosbie bobblehead doll. This authentic-looking action figurine features an amazingly accurate laser-sculpted face, with the classic Crosbie “slightly scowling semi-stare.” Even more charming, however, is the random nodding motion of the Town Manager’s head, approximating the response that many lengthy citizen’s queries have deserved in Board of Selectmen meetings. (Robin has never actually offered such a nodding response while listening to citizens query on and on and on — she holds her head absolutely still, the better to scowl and stare with — but a more realistic Robin Crosbie fixed-head doll was beta-tested with focus groups and judged “too scary.”) In the deluxe edition, she also rolls her eyes.
  2. This new edition of the classic board game Monopoly, produced in honor of the solid financial footing established for the Town during the Crosbie administration, replaces the usual Atlantic City streets with the names of familiar Ipswich roadways; the top-dollar Boardwalk, for example, is now Argilla Road. The usual “Utilities” cards have been replaced by schools; the game can be played with one or two. Players of this updated edition can buy not only hotels but also inns and B&Bs, although it’s not quite clear which is which. As for game tokens, the race car is now a police boat, and the scotty dog is a clam. And in honor of the solid financial footing the Town enjoys as the Crosbie administration winds down, this game comes with way more money, plus an emergency fund for rainy days.
  3. The official Ipswich Crosbie-era snow globe. This will be a beautiful piece for the mantel over your fireplace. It features a lifelike Town of Ipswich snowplow with a miniature Town of Ipswich driver slumped over the steering wheel taking a nap. This historically significant keepsake commemorates the Town Manager’s fondly remembered act of compassion, giving snow-moving personnel a chance to rest during that massive, endless snowstorm, whenever that was.
  4. The Town of Ipswich emergency all-call Robin Crosbie voice app. For a small annual fee, the app changes all your Town of Ipswich auto-calls into Robin Crosbie’s voice, no matter who’s actually Town Manager. We’re working on a tie-in with the mental health industry, offering the app for free to at-risk citizens who need extra soothing during disasters.
  5. The Robin Crosbie commemorative calculator. It remembers absolutely every number you ever feed into it. Just like her.

Additional ideas for great products? Email TownManager@DougBrendel.com.

 

The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is?

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Ipswich. Dangerous place. At least during Halloween season.

It wasn’t many weeks after my family and I arrived in this otherwise benign, reassuring little town that the terror began creeping in. Ghastly, ghoulish figures began appearing on utility poles downtown. Creepy ghosts, hideous witches, menacing skeletons, zombies and goblins and hags, Frankensteins and Draculas, mummies and Creatures from the Black Lagoon. On Market Street, the traffic crawled, and so did my skin.

As I understand it, all of this was mostly the fault of the Chamber of Commerce. Year after year, in the run-up to Halloween, they relentlessly goaded downtown merchants to decorate utility poles, the creepier the better. At stake: a public vote. Which business would be lauded for the most exquisitely hair-raising utility pole decorations?

Thank goodness, Electric Light Department manager Jon Blair finally stepped in to save us from this annual nightmare. In mid-October, Blair asked the Chamber not to incite Ipswich businesses to all this reckless decorating. At least not this reckless decorating of utility poles.

You can see why he had to take action; it was simply too dangerous. Blair knows that God didn’t create utility poles for such blasphemous uses, and why. Just think of the potential agonies.

This is not about drivers dangerously distracted by diabolical demons. Never mind small children screaming in terror as their mommies lead them down the sidewalk. Don’t worry about people considering relocation recoiling in horror and moving to Boxford instead, leading to massive economic decline for Ipswich. No. The real dangers of Halloween decorations on utility poles are far more terrifying.

What if there’s a problem, and a utility needs its pole climbed, but the worker arrives on the scene, and there’s a bat with a blood-drenched mouth baring its teeth at him, and he runs screaming back into his truck and spends the rest of the day hugging his knees and trembling? You can’t run a town that way.

Or what if there’s an emergency, and they need a certain utility pole to be climbed quickly, and they send an extra-brave worker, and he’s totally willing to climb the pole, but it’s swaddled in fake cobwebs, and as he climbs, the worker gets that cotton-candy-like stuff all over his gloves, and then in his eyes, and then his nose, and starts sneezing, and — well, the outcome is heartbreaking.

Or what if there’s a hurricane, and a utility pole falls over, and as it crashes to the earth, the werewolf clinging to the utility pole accidentally sinks its fangs into one of the pole’s own power lines, and half the town is plunged into darkness?

There are so many ways this can go badly, when you start putting ferocious and frightening Halloween decorations on your utility poles.

But no more. Not in this town. This Halloween, our utility poles are going to be bare-naked. Utterly ordinary. Perfectly accessible. Instantly climbable. Totally safe. The decorations may move to the streetlights or the trees. But not the poles. Never again.

Ipswich, we can breathe again. Let us give thanks.

The next time you walk, bicycle, or drive through downtown, and you’re thoroughly bored because the utility poles are so completely plain — rivaling the plainness of the utility poles of Rowley, Essex, or even Griffith, Indiana — take a moment to lift a prayer of gratitude to our Ipswich Electric Light Department.

Fun can be deadly. No way it’s gonna happen here.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives safe and secure on outer Linebrook Road, the land of undecorated utility poles. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”

 

You Are What You (Don’t) Eat

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I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to know a thing or two about garbage.

People put their garbage cans out by the road each week on garbage-pickup day. (Where I live, on Planet Outer Linebrook, garbage-pickup day is Thursday.) Under the law, Ipswich will only take one garbage can-full of garbage from you per week. If you have more garbage, you have to buy shame-bags.

They’re not officially called shame-bags, but this is how they function. You put your overflow garbage, the garbage that won’t fit into your single legal garbage can, into the shame-bags, and set them out by the road on garbage-pickup day, and everyone driving by sees all too clearly that you’re a wasteful glutton, with no regard for the environment, that you’re only too happy to clog the nation’s landfills and burn new holes in the ozone layer, and you don’t give a rip about your carbon footprint. You probably also don’t bother to recycle or compost. Do you kick your cat, too? It’s likely. All of these insights, your neighbors derive from the simple fact that you had to put a shame-bag in front of your house on garbage-pickup day.

I am so terrified of the messages I’ll send if I put a shame-bag by the road on Thursday morning that I have become manic about recycling and composting.

In order to make sure I get the recycling part right, I have a framed copy of the official “Ipswich Recycles” Rules and Regulations mounted under a spotlight in a place of honor in my kitchen. This is a document that tries to be cheery — printed in pleasant blue and green, and featuring a smiling cartoon clam blithely bubbling in the center of a soothing circular recycling symbol — but there’s still an intimidating aspect to any message that employs so much boldface type and STERN WORDS IN ALL CAPS, like the headline “SINGLE-USE PLASTIC BAG and POLYSTYRENE BANS” and the very strict admonition “NO Styrofoam or other #6 plastics, thin-film plastics or plastic bags of any kind.”

Recycling is free in Ipswich, and technically, it’s “unlimited.” You can recycle as much stuff as you want to, every single week, on garbage-pickup day. You can recycle mountains of cereal boxes and towers of newspapers and more wine bottles than you could possibly consume the contents of.

But recycling is still tricky. In some of the fine print, you’ll discover that the “unlimited” recycling plastic is actually, well, limited. You can’t mindlessly recycle just any plastic.

“PLASTIC BAGS and PLASTIC FILM — Do not put in your recycle bin,” the authorities warn. They’re talking about water bottle cases, paper towel wrap, and that filmy, environment-unfriendly stuff they shrink-wrap your supposedly environment-friendly organic vegetables with. This stuff can’t go in your Ipswich curbside recycling; you have to take it to the big box inside the door at Market Basket, or some similar depository at Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Target, Lowe’s, or Kohl’s. According to the rules, you also have to “Remove tape, labels or adhesive strips (NO pre-washed salad bags, frozen food bags, candy wrappers or pet food bags or material that has been painted or glued).” Those little labels they stick to each and every red bell pepper in the grocery store? You have to peel those off. The pepper guts can go into composting (composting is a different story altogether), but the little individual pepper labels have to go with the special not-actually-unlimited plastic recycling stuff.

Committed to total obedience, I have a separate bag (made of damnable plastic) hanging in my kitchen pantry, where I stuff all the plastics that can’t be recycled with all the other plastics; and once every few weeks, I head out with my plastic booty to a designated recycling site, feeling full of pride: I am recycling! And doing it properly! And it isn’t easy!

Garbage isn’t just garbage. It’s a lifestyle. To be a truly responsible citizen, you have to set aside extra time in the preparation of every meal, the consumption of every snack, to be sure about the correct placement of all the stuff that doesn’t go into your mouth. When the UPS man comes, you need to have a strategy ready for processing whatever packaging your package is packaged in.

It’s complicated, yes. But it’s worth it. At the end of my life, I want to know that I did right by the environment. I hope to live to be 100 — which is to say, 86.6 years of actual life, and 13.4 years of sorting my waste products.

In fact, when I die, just wrap me in back issues of the Ipswich Chronicle, slide me into a refrigerator box, and stand me up by the side of the road on a Thursday morning.

Wait — first, remove all labels.