HANSON — The Board of Selectmen have begun the process of hiring a new town administrator, voting on Tuesday, July 9 to post the position and the process by which they will select that person.
Interim Town Administrator Meredith Marini has advised Selectmen she is not interested in being appointed to the job full time.
Board members have expressed an interest in reviewing the job description, and Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked the board how they would like to approach the selection process. Marini said the Town Administrator Act will be the main guide for the type of candidate the town might seek.
“Once it’s posted, how do we want to go about whittling down to the candidates that we want to interview?” she said. Options included a selection committee, hiring an outside consulting firm — which has been done in the past, or including a group of citizens involved in the process.
Selectmen agreed to the consultant option, but Selectman Jim Hickey expressed a desire to be part of the process.
“I will go with it,” Selectman Wes Blauss said of a consultant. “I have become so totally cynical … this is a revolving door. We have had zero continuity. I can count six town administrators, plus an interim in 12 years — it’s just been so fast. We keep nobody.”
Blauss declined to discuss the kind of candidate he is looking for at this point, but did say the town keeps going around on the same track, hiring the “same basic person” who is gone after two years.
The last search was the first one in which the town used a consulting service, Marini said.
“One of the things that we’ve got to do is raise the salary,” said Selectman Kenny Mitchell.
“I’m not blaming the search committees,” Marini said. “It’s what you get for candidates, it’s a shallow pool that you’re working from.”
“You think it’s because of the salary?” FitzGerald-Kemmett asked.
“I think it is,” Marini replied. “And we’ve created our own problem now. [Applicants are] like, ‘Hanson? How many people have they had in the last so many years? What’s going on in Hanson?’”
Marini has looked to consulting firms listed in the Beacon Hill Beacon newsletter as well as reaching out to her counterparts in other communities to ask what firms they may have used.
FitzGerald-Kemmett suggested labor counsel Clifford & Kenny could be asked to conduct a comparative study of salaries in area communities. Marini said she had asked them to do just that, and that the firm will be supplying that information.
East Bridgewater, for example posted a position recently at a salary of $140,000. Hanson currently pays $122,000.
“That was a little concerning, particularly since it’s a very similar town in terms of size and demographics,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
During the last town administrator search, an independent consulting firm was hired to work with a search committee in conducting preliminary vetting of applicants, providing three finalists for Selectmen to interview.
Marini said the process is totally up to the board.
“I like the idea of a [consulting] company,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “What I would like is some department head feedback and involvement. I don’t know what that looks like, but I just know that I think it’s critical for our department heads … to be able to reflect that they have asked the questions and gotten a comfort level.”
She suggested that one option is to have a Selectmen’s meeting include an opportunity for department heads to ask questions of some candidates.
Marini explained that the board would set parameters of experience and other concerns for the consultant to use as a guide in reducing the applicant pool.
“My personal opinion is you need somebody who’s done the job before,” Marini said. “You can’t get somebody who is fresh out … unless they are exceptional. They need to know what the processes are.”
She reminded the board of her own plans for retirement.
“You’re going to have a new person in the executive assistant’s position and finding your way around is going to be difficult if you are just starting out,” Marini said. “By increasing salary, you may get some people who have been in other communities and, just through the dynamics of the political environment have decided to go someplace else, but I think the salary has a lot to do with it.”
In other business, Selectmen voted to change a design aspect of a portion of the Maquan Street/Route 14 rehabilitation project after MassDOT expressed concerns over a boardwalk plan the board had approved to streamline the construction time and lower cost. The board had previously opted for the other option presented to them — a retaining wall along a 250-foot portion of the road as it passes Maquan Pond.
“They are classifying [the boardwalk] as a bridge,” according to Town Planner Deborah Pettey in a letter to Selectmen. “That would mean it would have to be registered as a state bridge. It would also mean that we would have to hire a bridge engineer. Most likely [it would] add approximately $100,000 to the cost of the project and approximately nine months to the timeline.”
James Fitzgerald of engineering firm Environmental Partners explained the classification and options available to the board.
“There was a slight difference in improvements in terms of environmental impacts as far as going over the wetland [via a boardwalk] as opposed to putting in a retaining wall,” said Fitzgerald, who also mentioned that the board had preferred the aesthetics of a boardwalk, which was aimed at providing foot and bicycle access.
Maintenance would have been more costly for a boardwalk. As a bridge, the state would assign the boardwalk a bridge number and it would be under state inspection guidelines and authority for repairs, but may or may not allocate funds for any needed repairs.
“In our opinion, it makes much more sense at this point to go back to the retaining wall concept,” Fitzgerald said.
“Can we circle back to the absurdity of the bridge thing?” FitzGerald-Kemmett asked. “There are bridges failing all over Massachusetts and somehow this little 250-foot thing [is a bridge]. … I don’t think anybody felt extremely passionate one way or the other, but I think, aesthetically, we kind of favored the boardwalk.”
The retaining wall would require further discussion about where a wetlands replication area would be done to mitigate impact on the pond by the construction project.