In announcing a contract extension, complete with a salary increase, for Town Manager Sean Kimball at a recent Town Council meeting, Councilor Sylvia Nichols provided a short list of challenges that Kimball has been asked to overcome during his tenure at the head of the municipality.
Most of what was described is nothing new for a community; town managers of the past have been required to handle the impacts of tight budgets or the arrival of serious weather events. But where Kimball separates himself from his predecessors is over the last year.
There were storms and there were personnel decisions to be made and there were budgets to scrutinize, but all of it has come during a pandemic. Nothing like this has happened in Cheshire, or the country as a whole, in over 100 years, well before Cheshire even had a Town Manager to guide the way.
That’s why it’s hard to argue with the Council’s decision to reward Kimball with a contract extension at this time. As has been pointed out in recent months, Cheshire has found a way to not only survive the pandemic, but also remain in good condition while doing so. The municipality’s finances have not been decimated, essential services have not experienced considerable scaling back, and the community is actually in the enviable position of having new businesses seeking to open over the next few months at a time when some communities are being stung with business closures.
Of course, whatever success Kimball has had in keeping the community afloat during this difficult period is due to the collective efforts of everyone working for the community. It was once said that it “takes a village” to raise a child. One could dispute that claim, but there is no disputing the need for the collective “village” to fight a pandemic.
However, it is Kimball who sets the tone, and thus should be congratulated for his leadership. He is deserving of his new contract, but the hard work will continue. In fact, it may be that the next few years prove just as difficult as the last one.
Just as the community was forced to feel its way through a pandemic that required constant flexibility and adaptation, it will be asked to grapple with a post-pandemic landscape that is just now coming into view. How will local leaders handle what comes next? How will the community prepare so as to not be caught off guard?
This goes beyond just the possible economic fallout of the pandemic. While all of us would love to see COVID-19 vanish from existence one sunny morning, never to rear its head again, that increasingly looks like a fanciful dream disconnected from reality. This particular virus is likely to be with us for the rest of our lives, and the community must be ready to address positive tests that pop up from time to time, with a strategy at hand that doesn’t immediately call for the complete disruption of life.
Which innovations forced by the pandemic are worth keeping, or even expanding upon, and which are to be thrown out the window once the threat of COVID has receded? Kimball and his staff will likely have a large role in deciding what is and isn’t beneficial for the community moving forward
And of course, there is the balance of what is wanted and what is needed. Cheshire is considering a number of major projects this year, from school modernization to recreation field enhancements. The trick will be determining what’s essential and what isn’t, especially when so much uncertainty lies ahead.
Kimball and his staff deserve credit for the hard work put in over the last year. But that work isn’t complete. In fact, in many ways, it likely has just begun.