Town Manager Passes Scrutiny. (Profile).(John Scruton - Plaistow, New Hampshire)(Brief Article)

By Bricker, Lara | Public Management, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Town Manager Passes Scrutiny. (Profile).(John Scruton - Plaistow, New Hampshire)(Brief Article)


Bricker, Lara, Public Management


When John Scruton arrived as the new town manager in Plaistow, New Hampshire [in January 2001], he sensed a lack of trust in town government. The former town manager had resigned following a series of secret sessions and a tumultuous tenure, including two arrests and bad relations with the police department.

A Crisis of Morale

Most town officials agreed that the environment in town was as bad as it had ever been. "Morale appeared to be at an all-time low," Selectmen Chairman Merilyn Senter said.

And Scruton felt it. His first priority as town manager was to improve employee relations. "What I sensed when I arrived was that people were ready for a change in atmosphere," Scruton said. "I think my role was more of an enabler or facilitator to help people enjoy working together. I think everybody was ready for a change."

Senter said Scruton helped employees and officials move forward: "John is one to believe in putting the past where it belongs--in the past--and starting fresh."

Those who have worked with Scruton in Plaistow say he is genuinely interested in what they have to say, and he makes employees feel appreciated. "In my opinion, based on discussions with other members of the community, John tends to look at things in a very objective manner," said Fire Chief John McArdle. "He takes in the various viewpoints of those with specific opinions, weighs them, and then makes a decision as to which way a situation should be dealt with."

While some have questioned Scruton's ability to take a tough position [with employees], others point to an instance in which he jumped to defend secretary Nicole Carr during a selectmen's meeting one night when [a resident] verbally lashed out at Carr. Carr's computer was beeping while she was taking minutes, and [the person] began yelling at her. Scruton jumped right in and said: "I will not have you talk to my employees that way."

Senter has taken notice of Scruton's multitasking abilities. "He's like a juggler with about 14 balls in the air, and he can keep them in the air at the same time," she said. Police Chief Stephen Savage said he has been impressed by Scruton's ability to empower the individual department heads, allowing them to operate without micromanaging them. But the town manager has shown his ability to take charge of a situation, the chief said. "He's not afraid to tell you 'no', or disagree with you, but he's still very much a gentleman," Savage said.

Another Early Challenge

One of Scruton's first major projects in town was the hiring process for a new fire chief, following the retirement of longtime Chief Donald Petzold. Before deciding how to proceed with the search for a new chief, Scruton put together a survey, which was given to all members of the fire department. …

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