HANSON — Now there are two.
After interviews with the four final candidates — Greg Enos of Brockton, Michael McCue of Mansfield, Chawner Hurd of Lakeville and Sarah Smith of East Bridgewater — recommended by the Town Administrator Search Committee, Selectmen narrowed the field to McCue and Smith Tuesday, March 22.
It came down to experience, enthusiasm, longevity considerations, personality and opposition to using overrides to balance school operating budgets. Enos, Whitman’s assistant town administrator, also received high marks for his experience, particularly in grant writing and familiarity with the regional schools.
“I thought they were all good,” said Selectmen Chairman Bruce Young. “They all had various strengths.”
All four candidates had expressed an aversion to micro-managing and concern for the ethical use of social media, key areas of concern for selectmen.
“I think they’re all great candidates,” said Selectman James McGahan. “I thank the board for getting us some really highly qualified people. I think we’ve got some great talent.”
“I think we can take all four of them and flip a coin, they’re so close,” Selectman Don Howard said. “I’m having a difficult time because I’ve been through this twice before.”
While there was wide agreement on McCue, with Howard voting for Hurd (a businessman and former selectman), another 4-1 consensus vote selected Smith, with Selectman Bill Scott favoring Enos, following some discussion.
“I’m an experience guy,” Scott said. “We have two candidates [McCue and Enos] that bring experience to the job. … I don’t think we can afford the time to train another town administrator, with all due respect to the candidates — they were all impressive — but my feeling is it should go to someone … that can hit the ground running.”
McGahan agreed Smith is not familiar with regional schools, but noted she is friends with W-H Director of Business Services Christine Suckow, and can gain information from that relationship.
“But she made it a point in her letter that she understands there has to be a balance between the two (town and school budgets),” he said. Smith is currently business manager for West Bridgewater schools and has worked in private business as a financial officer.
Selectman Kenny Mitchell said he liked all four, but that Hurd’s résumé bordered on inscrutable.
“I’m not quite sure what he does now,” Mitchell said. He and McGahan agreed Smith’s enthusiasm for the position outweighed her lack of experience.
“I think she’s hungry for the job,” McGahan said.
The board will meet Tuesday, March 29 to make its final selection following reference checks.
McCue was favored for his experience and Hanson ties. He is currently town administrator in Rochester, a post he has also held in Avon, and has served as an administrative assistant to selectmen in Mendon, as an Economic Development grants officer in Walpole and was a selectman in Mansfield for six years. McCue had been a finalist for Hanson’s former executive secretary position about 12 years ago when Michael Finglas was hired, and his parents have lived in town for about 20 years.
Each candidate was allotted 45 minutes, with all but McCue taking less time to exhaust selectmen’s prepared questions and follow-ups. All four interviews were recorded for later broadcast by Whitman-Hanson Community Access Television.
Questions ranged from familiarity with the Town Administrator Act and the role of the office to management style, relations with selectmen and the regional school district and use of social media.
“I see myself as generally providing oversight to all departments, making sure all departments work cohesively, without being invasive,” McCue said of the role of town administrator. “My chief role would be shepherd of the budget.”
“Facilitating your visions and goals for the town” is job one, Smith said. “The residents elected you. I just want to make sure that we fulfill what you want to do legally, ethically and make the town better that way.”
She added that she advocates an open-door policy, listens to all sides and doesn’t take things personally.
“The town administrator doesn’t run the town, you people do,” she said.
Both McCue and Smith were conversant that Hanson’s current budget is $22 million. Neither favors overrides as a method of balancing the school district’s operational budget.
“I am aware your growth has been down this year and that you do have some debt exclusions out there,” Smith said. “Overrides for balancing budgets, I’m just not a fan of.”
While appropriate in some circumstances, she said a “major discussion” must happen before it comes to that.
“I believe that is the last resort,” McCue said. The law allows us to do it. I think that, in extreme circumstances, it can be warranted. I can safely say that I have not been party to an operational override. … It is the option of last resort, I believe.”
McCue also said his role would also be to investigate and foster economic expansion for the town, while serving as spokesman and go-between for the Board of Selectmen. The commuter rail station area is one he sees as a prime area for that type of expansion.
“Having served on a board of selectmen for six years, I do think I bring to the position an understanding of what you all deal with and need to work through on a daily basis,” McCue said.
Like all four candidates, McCue said communication was key to avoiding or resolving conflicts between subordinates, peers and board members.
“I don’t stand over people’s shoulders,” McCue said. “I expect people, who get paid very well and who are professionals, to do their job. That being said, there are occasions where I need to get involved and I try to keep those lines of communication open on a regular basis so I can nip problems in the bud.”
“I’m definitely a team player,” she said. “I’m not a micro-manager. I understand that sometimes you need to be firm, but you can always do that in a respectful way.”
One question outlined a hypothetical situation in which selectmen approach a town administrator for help setting up a social media page in support of a multi-million dollar project, requiring a debt exclusion, on which only favorable posts are permitted. All candidates said they could not ethically do that, nor would they use social media to advocate for extension of their contract.
“I cannot ethically do that,” Smith said of the project scenario. “I feel that social media, for a town, is to get information out to the people. … I’m not one to air my political views or anything like that.”
“There are constraints in terms of what one can do in terms of political function,” McCue said. “I would do my best to get the information out there, to deal with any questions that people might have … I’d hold public meetings — and they wouldn’t necessarily be here in Town Hall.
“One needs to be a little careful with social media because you can lose that person-to-person contact that I think a lot of people still want,” McCue said.