This Old Town
He Will Indeed be Missed
In 1651, the first Board of Selectmen in the newly-founded town of Medfield consisted of five of the town’s most respected men: Mr. Ralph Wheelock, Timothy Dwight, Robert Hinsdale, John Frairy and Benjamin Alby. In those early years, the Board of Selectmen consisted of five members elected annually. It stayed that way until 1847, when the town voted that there should be but three selectmen. In 1919, it was voted that “at the next annual meeting for the election of town officers, the town shall elect one selectman to serve for three years, one for two years and one for one year, and shall annually thereafter choose one selectman to serve for three years.” Medfield has kept that system up to the present day.
In early times, when the concerns of towns were simple and their populations small, most “executive” business of the towns was conducted by their boards of selectmen. As Massachusetts grew, the activities of towns expanded and became increasingly sophisticated. For most towns, the complexity of running town government demands that there be a professional administrator to assist the board of selectmen, whether it be an administrative assistant, executive secretary, town administrator, or town manager. While these positions must be authorized by charter or town meeting, it is the board that does the hiring. This responsibility must be taken very seriously. Depending on the responsibility vested in the position, the professional administrator can have a significant impact both on the ability of the selectmen to do their job and on how the town is run.
In 1970, Medfield took that route, and under selectmen Harry Kelleher, Lawrence Abar and Weston Kolsti, the town’s first Executive Secretary, Frederick C. Conley, was appointed. Conley represented the selectmen in providing, for the first time, full-time administration of town affairs and long-range planning for town services and facilities. After four years on the job, on December 31, 1974, Conley resigned, taking a position in Bernard’s Township, New Jersey.
On February 10, 1975, a handsome young-looking 28-year-old Irishman and Fall River native, who was still being carded due to his youthful appearance, took office at the Medfield Town Hall as Medfield’s second Executive Secretary. He came to Medfield, leaving his post as the assistant town manager in Arlington, Massachusetts.
His name was Michael J. Sullivan.
When Mike came here in 1975, he had to take a quick geography course to find the town. He had attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his bachelor’s degree in political science and then his master’s degree in state government. Following graduation and a brief internship in Pennsylvania, he was hired in Arlington. Upon getting the Medfield job, he quickly left Cambridge, where he was staying, and moved to Medfield, becoming a town resident, heart and soul, more than just an employee.
Back in 1975, he probably didn’t expect to still be in Medfield 44 years later, but he was taken by the town. The town, in turn, was taken in by Mike.
In addition to being the town’s full-time administrator and carrying out the day-to-day policies of the selectmen, his number one goal was to look at Medfield’s growth and how to control it. He saw his role as a coordinator - the person who understands the varied pieces and tries to pull them all together and keep things moving. His financial expertise and coordination with the town’s warrant committee has put him front and center in handling the town’s fiscal matters. He has guided all aspects of the town, from an operating budget of $7 million when he arrived here in 1975 to a budget of over $60 million today. He has served with, advised, educated and often put up with 21 different selectmen over the past 44 years, all with different goals and personalities, including Joe Marcionette, Arthur Farrar, Harry Kelleher, Ed Beard, Bill Reagan, Sandra Munsey, Richard DeSorgher, Ken Childs, Bob Larkin, Ann Thompson, Bill Nourse, Harry Pritoni, John Ganley, Tidal Henry, John Harney, Clarence Purvis, Paul Rhuda, Pete Peterson, Mark Fisher, Mike Marcucci and Gus Murby.
Yet, Mike was able to adjust and work with each of them. They, in turn, continued to re-hire Mike, year after year.
In 1984, his title changed and job responsibilities increased. Sullivan became Town Administrator, the position which he continues to hold today. It is a position which, unseen by the public, has kept him in Town Hall, working and keeping abreast of issues long after all have gone home and long after darkness has set in.
Over the years, and experiencing town government from the trenches, he became more vocal in expressing his opinions and concerns, especially against policies that hurt Medfield and its residents. His tirades against waste on Beacon Hill, the MBTA and the lack of honesty and common sense in state and federal government is well known and almost expected when he addresses budget and policy issues and their impact on Medfield. He is a walking encyclopedia of local, state and federal actions and inactions.
For 44 years, he has been the face you see at Town Hall and the reason many have a positive view of Medfield’s local government. Plainly and simply, he works well with people. Over the years, he has dropped what he is working on to offer help and assistance with issues, both large and small, arising with the public. He is positive and he has an amazing track record of finding solutions.
Whether you agree or disagree with him, he has guided Medfield carefully through hard times and good times; he truly has had Medfield’s best interests at heart. Perhaps it has been the luck of the Irish, but whatever the case, Medfield has been very lucky for the past 44 years. Congratulations, Mike, and good luck with a well deserved retirement!