A grand finale: Rosenthal praised at final meeting

Apr 1, 2024

MIDDLEBORO — The most significant action at the April 1 Select Board was not officially on the agenda.

But with unanimous praise, the board and members of the public wished Neil Rosenthal a fond farewell at his final Select Board meeting.

Rosenthal, who will be 80 in September, opted not to run again. This completes, at least for now, a long career of public service to the town.

His departure comes at the end of his second, six-year term. He won two three-year terms, one from 1992 to 1998 and returned to the board for two terms from 2018 to 2024.

“Six years is ideal,’’ Rosenthal said in an interview the morning of the meeting. “When you stay too long, you can get too close to people or lose touch with people.’’

By leaving now, he said, he gives “more people a chance’’ to add their perspectives and experiences to the board.

Rosenthal has served in a variety of capacities in town, including the Police Station Building Committee, the Central Fire Station Building Committee, the Downtown Business Bylaw Committee, which was charged with drawing more businesses to downtown. He has also been the president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Although he has a long list of town accomplishments, he was not raised in Middleboro. He lived in Lakeville until moving to Middleboro in 1976.

He was drafted into the Army and served in Vietnam. He earned a master’s degree in English literature, served as a master mason as a young man and later transitioned into the automotive business.

In some ways, he has earned two master’s degrees, he said, because the preparation and experience of serving on the Select Board is equivalent to finishing graduate school.

Serving on the Select Board today versus a generation ago is “less demanding.’’ Added staff members took some of the previous tasks, such as union negotiations, off their plates, he said.

The board hired Town Manager James McGrail in 2022, which Rosenthal described as one of the board’s major accomplishments in recent years. The board gave him “control of what happens financially.’’ McGrail develops the town budget and prepares a five-year projection for the town, which Rosenthal said frees up select board to focus on their task: Setting policy, procedures and protocols.

Select Board members have no control of the day-to-day running of the town, he said. “A lot of them don’t know that,’’ he said. Getting too involved, he said, is “an absolute no-no.’’

At times, interaction between board members has gotten heated. But, Rosenthal said, “I never take it personally.’’

He quipped that 150 years ago, board members with different views might go out back and have a duel, he said with a chuckle. Today, he noted, the board “tries to be collegial.’’ Even with a four-member board following the decision by Arthur Battistini to leave, there was never a stalemate, he noted.

Much of the pressure placed on the select board comes not from the community, he said, but from the state. Board members have often criticized what they have described as unfunded mandates, such as the call for zoning changes to accommodate more housing near the MBTA station.

Still, he said, “I think Middleboro is in great shape. We have real control over our schools’’ because they are independent and not part of a regional school district. “The community is reasonably prosperous.’’

The next select board meeting will feature two new faces. Teresa Farley and Jane Slavin are seeking a three-year seat while William Pike is running unopposed for the year-long term left vacant when Battistini left.

But Rosenthal was the star at the final meeting.

The praise he received at the select board was unexpected, he said. Although he hopes to follow in his predecessors’ footsteps and offer insight to those on future boards, all the compliments may make that tricky, he said with a laugh.

“I’m going to have a hard time coming back and criticizing,’’ he quipped.

Select Board Chair Mark Germain had a message for Rosenthal. “Neil, when you look back, I hope you realize that your dedication has played a key role in our town’s success,’’ he said. “We couldn’t have done it without you.’’

In recognition of his English degree, Select Board Member Brian Giovanoni read a poem that honored Rosenthal. Select Board Member Thomas White thanked him for serving as a mentor.