Interview – Darrin Tangeman – Town Manager – Truro, Massachusetts

Does understanding the history of your municipality help in building the future for it?

Picture yourself standing on a small cliff at a spot where flat, grassy land meets a seemingly endless view of the water. The wind dances around your face and the howling in your ears causes a white noise as you stare into the distance. Below you are waves crashing into jagged rocks, occasionally splashing you with shockingly cold water. In an attempt to relieve yourself from the unceasing wind, you turn around, only to gaze upon a beautiful, also seemingly endless view of land; dotted with lakes and other small bodies of water. In front of you lays abundant, healthy pastures that provide excellent resources for farming and raising a family.

That’s exactly what the Native Americans were doing thousands of years on the land before Truro, Massachusetts became an incorporated city.

Early colonizers noted in their journals that the Native Americans who lived in the area at the time they crossed paths in the early 1600s appeared healthy, tall, and well-nourished. After having a combined camp for some time, they noticed the Native American diet consisted of soups with game meat (mostly deer), roots, and vegetables, along with berries and nuts. While the men spent hours exhausting themselves hunting, the women were spending the same hours tending to the yard work, housework, and childcare. There was a lot of respect for the women in the communities. Their housing was beautifully constructed as well. The wigwams were made thoroughly, said to have been warmer than the colonizers’ shelters. The Native Americans also had dogs, games, and a transparent, thriving community, so no crime.

Unfortunately, as more English explorers traveled over, diseases wiped out over half of the Native American population in the area – on top of being overwhelmed by the more advanced technology that the English brought over. Through generations, Native American children were losing their culture and adopting the new, more enticing one. The English had the same vision of opportunity with the location that the Native Americans did. Over the next century, they developed the economy by farming in their pastures.

Fast forward to the middle of the 1800s, while churches, businesses, and people were buzzing in the city, damages from harsh tides started to write a new narrative for Truro. The unsafe environment was a turn-off for a lot of people. The economy started to suffer in the ’50s. Though, through the midst of the adversity, the residents asked for one thing to help their loved ones working at sea: a lighthouse.

That’s just the beginning of the bright side of the journey. Artists loved the aesthetics and artistic features of the lights around the area. A railroad that was built after the Civil War encouraged more tourists. In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy made Cape Cod a National Seashore, preserving over 60% of the shoreline – setting up Truro to be the destination that it’s known as today.

With the artists drawing attention to the area, the development of Route 6 also helped create a more approachable town for Truro. Families are able to come to a historic, beautiful town that’s full of attractive hiking trails and numerous beaches. The location at the southeast tip of Cape Cod encourages a small, two-hour trip to or from Boston. The preservation of the area is extremely important to the residents; in fact, holding back the construction and development of certain areas. That’s the type of respect that the residents have for their history and culture.

As I dove into Truro and its current situation, I started to question ways that they could keep tourists and increase residents. I started asking myself questions about how they could encourage development while preserving the past at the same time. I couldn’t help but think about how additional schooling might help the situation. I had a lot more questions come to mind so I decided to reach out to the Town Manager, Darrin Tangeman, who has a passion for their history, along with the discipline to accomplish plans for the future.

Truro, MA

An Interview with Darrin Tangeman:

Similar to how I don’t get straight to business before a business deal or family dinner, I started off with a lighter question to inspire some more personal and relaxed responses, asking him what his go-to alcoholic beverage is and what he likes about it:

“I enjoy craft beer, especially a Belgian or Hefferveisen. Paulaner or Konig Ludwig hefferveisens are my go to. It takes me back to Germany. It is smooth and pairs well with my favorite German food.”

I’ve never had either of those, but by the sound of it, and the fact that he likes to pair it with dinners, makes me think that it’s full of flavors – that’s definitely when the nostalgia hits!

As I did my research, Darrin seemed to be a disciplined person. One of the most respectful items on his list of accomplishments is that he spent over 21 years in the military. Crew Chief, Platoon Leader (EMS), IT Director, Special Forces Commander, and Civil Affairs Director are just a couple of titles that he held. I asked him what encouraged him to get into the military:

“My aunt, uncle, father, and grandfather all served in the military. It was a simple choice for me.”

I think that’s as simple as it gets. If all of my family members were lawyers, I’d probably be a lawyer. If all of my family members worked at a grocery store, I’d probably work at a grocery store. I’m not a scientist but I do know that the environment you’re raised in plays a big part in who you are today.

I’ve never been in the military or had anyone in my life that I could ask questions about the industry. On top of his military experience, Darrin attended Harvard Kennedy School, has been a board member of different organizations, a management fellow, and chairperson. I took the opportunity to ask him some important lessons that he’s learned in each position:

“In the military, I learned the meaning of hard work, determination, resilience, and perseverance. You don’t become an Airborne, Ranger, Green Beret without having or building those four attributes. At Harvard Kennedy School, I learned relationships, collaboration, and deliberation. My cohort is preparing to have a reunion next year and I am looking forward to it. One of the biggest takeaways from the program was “choice architecture or nudges” in developing public policy. It sticks with me today – public policy is more than doing the greatest good for the greatest number of people or Pareto optimality, there is also shaping the decision structure to make default decisions aligned with the most optimal policy outcomes.”

The military lesson reminds me of the Calvin Coolidge quote, Persistence, in which he talks about “persistence and determination alone” being the only things that we need in life. I don’t doubt his reunion will be exciting and I think being in a room filled with people like him would be a great time and learning experience.

To follow up on his military career with one in local government is a great, relevant transition. The leadership skills and communication skills that come from those professions are nearly unmatched. I wanted to know how he’s taken what he’s learned in the military and applied it to his local government positions:

“I apply it every day. I have made a conscious choice to not use the same lexicon or approaches in problem-solving, but rather let it inform more flexible applications of what I learned in the military. It turns people off in interviews when you can’t bridge the civilian divide and you still talk like you are in the military. What we learned was important and valuable, but we must open our minds and see different approaches to problem-solving. Our experience and methodologies are valued when added, but they are only a piece of the puzzle, not the entire puzzle.”

It’s a different level of awareness that’s required to be able to understand the civilian situation that you’re in and react in a way that’s unfamiliar. It takes 30 days to make or break a habit, and Darrin spent 20+ years developing his in the military.

His unique approach to problem-solving will serve Truro well. Being just over a year in, I was curious what his plans are. While researching, I noticed the last Comprehensive Plan needed updating from 2005. I confronted him about that and asked him what he has up his sleeves for the future of Truro:

“We are in the process of updating our local comprehensive plan this year. The areas of focus will be expanding the diversity of our housing stock to make Truro housing affordable to our workforce, improving environmental protection of our water source, mitigating the impact of climate change to our coastal environment, and developing an economic development strategy that provides a sustainable direction for Truro for the next 10-15 years.”

“Expansion”, “Improvement”, and “Developing” are keywords there. Being able to house not only the current residents, but more residents, is a big vision. The goal of preservation while also looking to expand isn’t always the easiest task, but living in a time when we can see what our neighbors are doing is incredible; learning from others is extremely important. Updating the plan is a major part of the success of an organization.

Darrin’s been leading and organizing plans for years. When it comes to the overall perspective of the City Manager role, I wanted to know some fresh ones – or new ideas – that he brings to the City Manager position:

“I am in my seventh year as a City Manager and served 21 – 1/2 years in the military, which, from my perspective, are all years in the “public management” field. The one thing that always remains in my mind from the military and special forces is the power of information and the transformative nature of information on a population. If you don’t focus on information as part of your public policy approach you are failing at your job. Sometimes that means you have to convince others how important it truly is.”

The power of data is a concept that could be translated over to the public sector a bit better in my opinion as well. Being able to analyze the numbers will help create a bigger picture and a more focused path. If you’re stuck in the forest but able to cut down trees at an incredible pace, it doesn’t help if it’s in the wrong direction. It takes leadership to form a vision.

To play on a previous question, I wanted to get some more depth; I asked him, what are his overall, big picture goals for the city:

“The workforce (compensation, benefits, and housing), climate change mitigation (beach erosion), and protecting our environment (wastewater management) are my highest priorities. Cape Cod is an increasingly difficult place to recruit talent because of the cost of living and housing. It is a fantastic place to be, but it is just difficult to subsist, so we need to find ways for the people who work to be able to live here, bring their families here, and raise their kids here. That is my Big Picture goal.”

How does Truro keep residents in the area? What actions do they need to take in order to decrease the cost of living and provide more affordable housing? I questioned some of those things before the interview. There are other towns that experience these same adversities and the goal is to learn from them.

Darrin isn’t unfamiliar with learning in communities though. He’s ICMA certified, which provides a great community of state and local leaders that have experienced successes and failures. There are many other benefits of becoming ICMA certified and I wanted to see what his favorite are:

“Being an ICMA credentialed manager is important for the profession because it means that you’ve made a commitment to lifelong learning and will continually assess your weaknesses each year, along with establishing a training plan that will make you better every year. It also means you uphold the ICMA code of ethics which, among other things, focuses on personal integrity, avoiding conflicts of interest, and being an example for our profession in building a diverse team.”

The integrity of the position is a great reason to become an ICMA certified city manager. It shows dedication to the profession and with the lifelong learning incorporated, it’s an honorable certification. Within any position of an organization, a lifelong learning mentality will set you apart from others.

As I came to the end of the interview, I was pondering the answers and attempted to gain a better understanding of the future of Truro and the residents. It was a pleasure being able to talk with the Town Manager and get his insights. Being as disciplined as he is, I had to ask him one more time what his vice was:

“I don’t really have a vice other than an occasional beer. I had a commander that said never trust someone without a vice, but I disagree with him. You never want to put yourself in a position to compromise your integrity and that’s what vices do. Eventually, a vice will lead to a bad decision. I moved to a historic beach town because I wanted the calming effect of the natural beauty of the ocean and beaches and the crashing of waves. I really needed that in my life.  I guess you could say nature is my vice. I also enjoy working on my properties and fixing my own cars. I used to be an aircraft mechanic when I started in the military, so it’s a way for me to disconnect from the issues I face in management and go to a different place in my mind.”

Darrin Tangeman – Town Manager

How do we preserve our past while preparing for the future?

Understanding the history of your municipality is not only important but fun! The best places to find values are in history. Highlighting important values helps create a brand and a city brand could be used to draw in more residents.

The deep history of Truro is that they grew through advanced technology and determination. This innovation came from the colonizers or nomads. Finding ways to invite a broader demographic could help Truro gain and retain residents.

Truro is looking to find that balance between holding onto the history and developing; creating the infrastructure for a more sustainable future.

If you live in the town, check out the open board positions for a chance to have an impact. If you’d like to dive a bit more into the history of Truro, check out this very in-depth excerpt. As they develop their plan, be on the lookout! And if you’re from a city or town with the same goals, lend an idea. As a resident, participate in the town meetings and be involved in the evolution of your town!

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