Great Barrington formally votes out Town Manager O'Donnell


GREAT BARRINGTON -- Despite the clear opposition of some town residents, the Great Barrington Select Board voted 4-1 to not renew Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell's contract after it expires in April.

Residents filled the seats and lined the walls inside and outside Monday night's meeting, and the Selectmen listened to about a dozen people take to the microphone at the front of the room. Many scolded the board for the decision that hadn't even been voted on yet, using words like "abomination" to describe the possibility of not renewing O'Donnell's contract.

O'Donnell, who has served as the town manager since 2009, has received unfavorable marks on his past two evaluations.

"This action is more common than you think," Selectwoman Deb Phillips said to the packed room during the meeting. "How the board handles some things is not confident with how the town manager handles it. He's done some great things, this isn't to demean him."

Selectman Stephen Banon was the only one who voted in opposition of not renewing O'Donnell's contract.

"As with any units, we're going to disagree sometimes, but the timing really tips the scale," he said.

Andy Moro was the first to speak, and noted his opposition, saying their decision was personal, and that the town should see the "resignation of the whole board."

"I'm on the Finance Committee, and I'd like to where they're going to get the money for the search," Moro said afterward. "I still believe it's personal, and elections have consequences. We'll find candidates to put up against these people. It's personal now."

When residents spoke on O'Donnell's behalf -- who was present at the meeting -- they referenced the growth that Great Barrington has seen under O'Donnell's management.

"Kevin knows a lot of people in the area, and he gets things done," resident Ron Dlugosz said. "The Smith sonian didn't recognize us because we weren't moving forward. They recognized us because we were [moving forward]."

A Great Barrington businessman, Ron Blumenthal had a small book containing about 30 residents' and business owners' signatures that were in favor of the board's decision to not renew O'Donnell's contract. When a member of the audience asked Blumenthal to give specific names of signers, Bluemnthal said some wouldn't go public in fear of being scorned by the public. He was then met with scoffs from most of the audience until a banging gavel shushed them.

"Those that signed believe that the town could function a lot better without Kevin impeding," Blumenthal said afterward. "They support the Selectmen."

Mary Eastland said she was acting as the union steward of Great Barrington library workers during a 2009 hearing with O'Donnell. Eastland was filling in at that meeting for the regular union steward.

She said that when she tried to speak to O'Donnell on behalf of a colleague, O'Donnell stood up, and yelled for her to "sit down and shut up."

She recalled the story during the meeting to the audience, board members and O'Donnell himself.

O'Donnell later said he has no recollection of that meeting nor would he ever say something like that.

"You just don't talk to people like that," Eastland said afterward. "He was my boss' boss, but as a woman, he was very hard to work for."

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