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The Passing of a Local Icon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011, 19:21 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Dick CarneyWhen I say “government worker,” what comes to mind? Chances are, it isn’t a positive image. Public employees at all levels, from local to federal, have a reputation of being lazy and/or inept and of hanging onto their jobs until mandatory retirement forces them out. That reputation might or might not be true, depending on the individual in question. One person to whom it most certainly did not apply was Richard Carney, who died last Friday.

Mr. Carney, as all but a handful of people in town government called him, served as Town Manager in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, for 41 years before retiring in 1997 at age 70. As noted in his obituary, he holds the record as the longest-serving Town Manager/Administrator in Massachusetts history. I recall hearing just before he retired that he might even have been the longest-serving active municipal manager in the country, though I was never able to confirm that. When I was Government Access director for the local cable company, I remember sitting in the control room adjacent to the Board of Selectmen’s Meeting Room in town hall, working remote-control cameras when Mr. Carney announced to a stunned Board his decision to retire. You have to understand that he had been Town Manager longer than most residents had lived in town, so his announcement was big news. The biggest town news in recent memory, in fact. And I was televising it live as it broke.

It was an ironic moment, capturing with state-of-the-art equipment the announcement that the oldest employee in town was stepping down. One thing I discovered during my tenure working for the town was that Mr. Carney was something of a technophobe. He kept the town at pace with the times, even while steadfastly refusing to avail himself of the technology that every other employee under him had. I don’t think he ever used his computer; I’m not sure he even had one in his office. After succeeding Mr. Carney, current Town Manager Dan Morgado quipped that upon opening the manager’s desk drawer on his first day on the job, he found an abacus.

But Dick Carney was no relic. He navigated the town through residential and commercial growth spurts, major infrastructure projects, increasingly intrusive state and federal regulations, and fiscal ups and downs. Something of a micro-manager—he is said to have prepared the annual budgets for almost every department in town, even though that should have been the department heads’ job—he always found ways to come up with whatever money was needed, even in the leanest times. His methods might not have been the most transparent, but they worked, giving Shrewsbury residents some of the best services available in the area.

Mr. Carney’s funeral mass was this morning. He was buried in the town cemetery. I wasn’t able to attend because of work obligations. But in the course of running a few lunch hour errands, I drove past Town Hall, where black bunting hung from the building’s facade and the American flag flew at half-staff.

Times change and people move on, as they should. Even the most effective and flexible manager must step aside eventually for someone newer and fresher. Forty-one years is a long time to be in a job, even for a government worker. Mr. Carney wasn’t your stereotypical government worker, though. He certainly wasn’t inept and he didn’t just hang around until it was time to collect his pension. So great was his impact that upon his retirement, town hall was renamed the Richard D. Carney Municipal Office Building. But it was good that he retired, finally. Good for the town and good for him.

He will be missed.

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