Kristen Las appointed Westford Town Manager, succeeding Jodi Ross in February

WESTFORD — After 14 and a half years of hard work, City Manager Jodi Ross will finally hand over the baton.

The Select Board has chosen Shrewsbury Deputy Director of Community Development and Health and Social Services Kristen Las to succeed Ross in the New Year. Board members voted on and signed Las’ negotiated contract at Tuesday’s meeting.

For President Andrea Peraner-Sweet, it was important to find someone willing and able to carry out current policies and projects, but also someone who could “move us forward and take the next steps”, she said. she said in an interview.

“The select committee believed, after the interview (of Las), that she was the best candidate for the city and that she would best serve the city,” Peraner-Sweet said, “and that she came with experience, background and knowledge we felt she was the best candidate.

Ross announced his retirement in June this year and planned to leave in early January. At the meeting, the council named Ross as acting city manager until Las assumes the role on January 31.

After reaching an agreement last week, Las signed his contract – which runs until June 30, 2026 – earlier on Tuesday, Peraner-Sweet said during the meeting.

Selecting a new city manager took several months — after hiring Municipal Resources, Inc., to help with the search effort, Peraner-Sweet said the council created a nine-member search committee made up of “town residents”, including herself and another council member. Anita Ronakarn-Nguyen, who narrowed the pool down to three candidates.

After conducting a final round of interviews Dec. 10, the board announced it had extended an offer to Las, subject to a background check and successful contract negotiations, Peraner-Sweet said. during this meeting.

Westford Deputy City Manager Eric Heideman and Tyngsboro City Administrator Matthew Hanson were also finalists for the job.

For more than 12 years, Las worked with the town of Shrewsbury, first as a town planner from late 2010, then rising to the post of deputy chief executive exactly five years later. In that role, she oversees economic planning and development, the health department, veterans services, recreation and “a myriad” of other projects and programs, she said.

Growing up in Groton, Las, from Boylston, said she had seen “Westford grow and change over time”. Las studied geography at Penn State University and worked at a private consulting firm from 2004 to 2010 before joining Shrewsbury. She also earned her Masters in Community Development and Urban Planning from Clark University.

“I’ve always been on this path of understanding how people interact with their environment,” Las said, “how they use city services, use their government to serve, and how government can better serve them.”

Westford and Shrewsbury are similar in many ways, Las said, although Westford has a slightly smaller population. The city is “known for its excellent school systems” and strong community services, stable departments and AAA bond rating, Las said, which made Westford “a good fit.”

“I just thought it would be a great opportunity for me to learn and grow and be able to help the city with the knowledge that I have,” Las said.

Las said she plans to familiarize herself with voters and officials, city zoning regulations and the charter and other current policies in her first six to 12 months before making any big changes. She also hopes to take advantage of Westford’s hiking and biking spaces and return to the Nashoba Valley ski area, where she used to race skis.

The job will pay between $210,000 and $230,000, according to the Municipal Resources, Inc. posting. Las will be responsible for Westford’s $126.6 million operating budget in the next fiscal year and its capital budget. of $6.7 million, with approximately 370 full-time and part-time city employees, depending on the position.

Tuesday’s meeting was bittersweet for Ross, who was graced with well wishes, Westford-related gifts and heartfelt farewells from the Select Board. Ross seemed more excited about a drink, which she suggested she could use to “drink (her) margaritas.”

Vice President G. Thomas Clay said Ross had received “warm support” and gratitude from his staff for their own departure, and Clerk John Cunningham said that during the many committees he sat, Ross was extremely supportive and did “a superb, superb job of balancing the budget.”

Ross has also inspired department chiefs in police, fire, highways and elsewhere to improve their divisions, despite financial constraints, said board member J. Scott Hazelton.

“That positive spirit is coming from the top… that’s really what you’ve done for the city, it’s sent a signal that there’s no excuse not to perform well,” Hazelton said. . “We actually tried to outperform, and you modeled it, your staff modeled it and that’s why the city is what it is, so thank you.”

Ross credited these “passionate” employees for the success they’ve seen.

In an interview, Peraner-Sweet said she and the rest of the board are “very thankful and thankful” that Ross will serve for one month longer than expected, as well as for all his work as city manager.

“She led us with passion, compassion and knowledge,” Peraner-Sweet said, “and served this city beyond what we could have expected over the past 14 years.”

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