TRURO — A vocal contingent of Truro voters and nonvoters has waged a campaign in the last week asking the select board not to renew Town Manager Darrin Tangeman’s contract. As of June 13, the board had received at least 45 emails urging Tangeman’s ouster, citing a variety of reasons including high taxes, housing development said to threaten Truro’s rural ethos, and Tangeman’s “authoritarian” managerial style.
An online petition initiated by Jonathan Slater, titled “Truro Needs a New Town Manager,” warned of a shift toward “suburbanization” under Tangeman’s rule. It had collected 391 apparent endorsements as of the Independent’s news deadline on Tuesday, June 13.
Only 349 names were visible, however, because the platform iPetitions allows for anonymous “signatures.” Of those 349 signers, 202 — or just under 58 percent — are registered Truro voters.
Tangeman became town manager on Jan. 4, 2021, and his three-year contract will expire on Jan. 3, 2024. “His contract remains active under an indefinite appointment under the current existing terms” unless a supermajority of the select board votes not to renew it by June 30, select board chair Kristen Reed told the Independent.
The select board also received a handful of emails supporting Tangeman. Those letters argue that his role is misunderstood and that he is competent and responsive to community concerns.
The Independent reviewed the messages, both negative and positive, after requesting them from the select board. All letters and emails to the board are public documents.
Six of the emails cited excessive spending and escalating taxes as reasons to fire Tangeman. “Taxes have skyrocketed under his tenure,” Cheryl Best wrote. “There has been an overt, and ever-increasing inclination to over collect taxes.”
In another email, John and Katherine Garran wrote that under Tangeman there was “too much spending, taxes too high, town spending money will-Nilly [sic] to make the special interest group feel good.”
State law empowers town meeting to approve or reject all spending. According to the Mass. Dept. of Revenue, the select board makes policy decisions, including developing the budget. The town manager and finance committee make recommendations but don’t have final authority over budgets.
At town meeting this spring, the $23.5 million omnibus budget passed easily. Two Proposition 2½ overrides, which critics have blamed Tangeman for, were approved at both town meeting and the town election in May.
Several critical emails referred to overdevelopment and the importance of “keeping Truro rural.” Jytte Klausen of Cambridge, who signed Slater’s petition, told the Independent that the proposed Walsh property housing “has really been pushed through by the town manager.” She added that “most people who live on the Outer Cape do not wish to live in dense housing and it will profoundly change the character of the town.”
Steven Sollog wrote that calls for new housing were “divisive” and “the Town Manager needs to take the blame for this.”
In her comment on Slater’s petition, Karen Ruymann mentioned Tangeman’s “push to suburbanize this magical rural paradise,” saying that it spoke “against his ability to be a uniting leader in Truro.”
Bob Panessiti, chair of the Truro Finance Committee, supported Tangeman’s contract renewal. He told the Independent that “people are talking about the direction that Darrin is taking the town, but Darrin does not take the town in any direction.”
Panessiti posted a message on the town’s unofficial Facebook group, “Truro,” which has more than 4,000 members, calling attention to citizens’ role in approving the town budget. He wrote that he intended to correct “false narratives” and disputed anxieties about “suburbanization,” pointing out that 67 percent of the town is in the Cape Cod National Seashore.
Panessiti’s Facebook post was deleted; he told the Independent that he hadn’t done it. The moderator of the “Truro” group is Helen Addison, who signed Slater’s petition. Asked whether she took Panessiti’s post down, Addison wrote in an email that “I don’t specifically remember any posts by Robert Panessiti though it could have been a post taken down because somebody else in the group objected to it.” Addison said any post that elicits an objection gets taken down.
At the select board meeting on June 13, Slater said, “It is only one week since this petition was posted and its rapid growth clearly indicates a large and significant groundswell of opinion in the town.”
Josh Grandel told the Independent that he signed the petition because he recognized the names of other signers and because “I’m not a fan of this big social agenda that’s going on with child care.” Grandel also said he thought the town manager was Bob Weinstein. Told that the town manager’s name was Darrin Tangeman, Grandel said, “I’ve never heard of him.”
By far the most common grievance expressed by Tangeman’s critics is about his personality and leadership style, which have been described as “autocratic,” “bullying,” and “iron-fisted.” Several letters cited Tangeman’s military background — he was a Green Beret — as the explanation.
“Our government is now run more like a corporation and the military than like a small New England town in which residents play an active role in policy formation and implementation,” Joan Holt wrote to the select board.
“We have an element of our community who feels disenfranchised,” said Tangeman this week, “and they have identified me as the person who should be accountable for that disenfranchisement. I often run into people who stereotype military leaders as autocratic, heavy-handed, and iron-fisted. It’s something I avoid in terms of management style. I’m very sensitive to that.”
Tangeman also said he saw a need for clarification of the role of town manager which, he said, is to implement, not create, select board policies and the voters’ decisions.
Select board chair Reed saw a similar need. “The select board is always willing to listen to resident concerns,” she wrote in an email, “but we also recognize that many of the grievances in these emails are tied to a misconception about what the town manager is actually responsible for.”
Tangeman said he would like to “apologize if members of the community tried to contact me and couldn’t get hold of me.” He added that in combing through his voicemail archive and email database many of those who complained about him did not appear. “I just don’t know where there was a ball that was dropped,” he said. “I’m always open to communication.”
Some residents who support Tangeman’s continued tenure also noted qualities that echo the sentiments of those calling for his dismissal.
Kristen Roberts, a member of the finance committee, served on the search committee that screened Tangeman. In a letter to the select board, she wrote, “I will be honest and tell you he was not my first choice, or even my second. I felt he was a little less collaborative and a little more authoritative than I would have liked to see.”
But Roberts has been pleasantly surprised, she said, finding Tangeman “receptive to feedback.” Listing current development projects that put the town “at a significant crossroads right now,” Roberts wrote: “Despite any differences I have had with Darrin, I truly believe that he will be the best person to steer the town through it.”
Panessiti also wrote the select board in support of Tangeman. “I think Darrin is a top-down manager, and that management style bothers some people,” he told the Independent. “That can be worked on.” He added that “the wholesale call for his dismissal because he’s not responding to everyone who calls him is a modern-day witch hunt.”
Reed said that the select board believes Covid restrictions hampered Tangeman’s ability to engage with the community. During Reed’s one-on-one performance review with Tangeman this year (which each select board member held), “it was agreed that his focus for the coming year should be on communications and engagement, with a priority on civility,” she said.
The select board will go into an executive session on Friday, June 16 at 10:30 a.m. with town counsel to discuss Tangeman’s contract renewal, according to Reed. The discussion will take place in an executive session because it falls under “strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel,” Reed said. That is one of 10 permissible reasons to hold a closed session.
The select board has not yet decided when it will reveal the outcome of Friday’s meeting, Reed said. The decision may be made public at the select board’s next meeting on June 27.