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New Administrator Promises Personnel Overhaul, Focus on Economic Development

Tiverton's new Town Administrator isn't making sweeping promises, but he does have a plan for getting Tiverton on the right track in the short term.

Yesterday was Matthew Wojcik's first day on the job as Tiverton's new town administrator and he said it's "hard to wax poetic" when there's so much work ahead.

"It's a lot of responsibility and professionally, it's exciting to be able to take a step up to that added level of responsibility," Wojcik, 45, said. 

Wojcik said he's fully aware of the contention and controversy that has plagued this small and tightly-knit town over the past year, with scandals surrounding an employee who is now on his way out the door and the departure of the former Town Manager.

To navigate those waters, Wojcik said he's going to embrace the benefit of the doubt given to a new leader like him, nurture it and use it to start implementing a series of overhauls to raise professional standards and utilize best practices.

"I'm no stranger to controversy and have been in some difficult positions," Wojcik said, noting he was the director of economic development for the city of Woonsocket, where civic leaders have been working against a sense of general malaise and a downtrodden economy.

It's professional challenges like that that can motivate a leader to be inventive, creative and get the job done against the odds. And to get things done, you need to have the public's support and trust.

"You focus on those professional challenges and what it mans to the taxpayer," Wojcik said. "You have to recognize that every single thing you say and do is a reflection on the credibility of government."

That taxpayer-centric approach will guide Wojcik as he begins work implementing change to make Tiverton's government more effective, responsive and efficient.

"You have to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room," he said, and in Tiverton, that's personnel management.

"All of the recent attention suggests the entire set of best practices around personnel management needs to be compared to what we have here and if there are some shortfalls, we need to address them explicitly, one way or another," Wojcik said.

If there weak points in the administration schematic, they need to be addressed.

The next big issue is hitting the budget targets for the upcoming fiscal year and understanding the impact of state issues, such as changes in state aid and other impacts. Though the budget process is already well underway, Wojcik isn't going to sit around and wait until next year to take a crack at the budget.

"While the budget is nearly done, we have to finish it with an eye toward the future," Wojcik said. 

The town needs a plan B to deal with worst-case scenarios or sudden changes that require immediate cost savings. The pension settlement agreement announced by state leaders and union officials earlier this month is a prime example of how mid-stream changes can throw municipalities for a loop.

"We have to be mindful and have to know what plan B is if the budget is going to be adjusted to accommodate new costs because of the settlement," he said. 

That's just two things he's thinking about, but with just a couple of days on the job, Wojcik keenly said he wasn't about to start listing all the things on his immediate to-do list. It would be premature, he said, and a big part of his job right now is mastering Tiverton and meeting its people to get a clear idea of the way the town works and where its strengths and weaknesses lie.

His work, he said, is similar to what a business consultant would do. In the early stages, the job is all about getting to know the key players within a company, what their jobs are, how they fit together. Then, industry best practices can be compared to what's happening locally.

"It's only after that initial review that we can start to prioritize," Wojcik said, noting that he serves at the pleasure of the Town Council and their ideas about what should be prioritized needs to be be given attention.

On a personal level, Wojcik said he's a lifelong Rhode Islander and is passionate about the state. He's worked for former Senator John Chafee and in the governor's office, so he's familiar with many of the issues facing the state. Being a fly on the wall and during all those high-level meetings helped broaden his perspective of the state and its issues.

As far as Tiverton goes, "it's a beautiful community," he said, a place where he and his wife have come to "break away for weekends and spend afternoons."

That's part of what drew him to the job. He was a candidate for similar jobs in southern New England in towns of roughly the same size. He really wanted to stay in Rhode Island if he could.

"If I had the option to stay in RI, I absolutely wanted to. This is where my professional network is located," he said. 

In Woonsocket, he said his job as EDC director was to push boundaries and think ahead. 

"I stand by those things. That's the right answer for a lot of communities," he said.

Cities and towns like Woonsocket, Central Falls and East Providence, which have gone through bankruptcy or interventions because of financial troubles teach the rest of the state important lessons — lessons that can be brought home to Tiverton.

One of those lessons is that developing the tax base and growing business is vitally important. 

"We have to develop our tax base as much as nurture our budgets," Wojcik said. "You have to get growth in place to keep that financial burden down. The lesson we've learned is that development is a part of the equation that needs the most attention."

It takes time.

"It requires the most patience, it's not easily done, but it has the greatest long-term bang for the buck."

Rug Doctor February 26, 2014 at 11:25 AM
One can only hope thAt this guy deals with the corrupt code enforcer and some of the other stars that our town has protected for years .
Chris12 February 27, 2014 at 04:58 PM
Good luck Matt in your new position.

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