WHITMAN — Does the town need a new assistant town administrator or would a human resources, procurement and grants director better meet the town’s administrative needs?
The Board of Selectmen discussed the issue on Tuesday, March 1. Their selection to become assistant town administrator, Rogeria Medeiros-Kowalczykowski of Stoughton, and the town were unable to reach a contract agreement last month. The board will continue the conversation at its March 15 meeting and will work to develop a common list of expectations in the meantime.
Selectman Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said the board received two job descriptions — one for a human resources, procurement and grants director and one for the assistant town administrator position — as the board had requested.
Selectman Dan Salvucci noted there were no schedules included, such as a five-day work week or a requirement to attend all the different meetings. Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman said he would ordinarily include that information in the job posting, but it could be added to the job description.
“This is basically a choice that we can make, whether to look for an assistant town administrator or someone who is specifically labled as a human resources, procurement and grants director,” Kowalski said.
Salvucci said his question would be which position is more valuable to the town.
“The fact that we have an assistant town administrator, first of all, when Lincoln goes on vacation, or is sick or something like that, who steps into your shoes at that time?” Salvucci said. He also had questions about responsibilities of making certain decisions and getting things done on a day-to-day basis.
If an assistant town administrator was opted for, he asked if that person would take on a human resources role, or would that stay with Heineman?
Heineman said he called some colleagues in other towns to “shake the trees a bit more” and get some more comparison points.
“If the board’s intention is that the town would post a position at maybe a slightly lesser range for a salary … that if it is not titled assistant town administrator, but instead, an HR director — I would suggest focused on HR director and grants — if the board’s intention is we pay a little less, we might attract some other folks,” he said. “We won’t know for sure until we get it out there.”
He said there are communities in the midrange, are whatever reasons, are offering salaries a bit less than the midrange for town administrator positions.
“I think it’s true, with all these factors in play, that we … would likely be offering less than a very similar position in similar community,” he said.
Salvucci touched on some of the areas on which the town had some flexibility, Heineman suggested — the possibility of working from home on Fridays and attendance at night meetings, for example.
Selectman Brian Bezanson said he did some research on the positions through some of the online employment sites, and got the sense that the nationwide average for a straight HR position was about $70,000.
“I do think we could pay less than a town administrator,” he said. “But, based on the climate you described in the localities you talked about, I’m no sure how much less we’d be paying and would we be putting ourselves in a little bit of a pickle not having a town administrator.”
He said that was one reason he made the suggestion about an HR director/grant writer.
“It’s a give and take as to do you want to save money or do you want to have the proper people in place?” he said. “I think we have to decide what the real goal is here.”
Kowalski said at this point, he is not certain on the issue.
Selectman Justin Evans said he is concerned that making the switch may make it harder to return to the current model down the road, and favored keeping the assistant town administrator position.
“There’s a certain amount of work that needs to be done, and two people [himself and executive assistant Laurie O’Brien] aren’t enough to do that,” Heineman said. Grants are a concern because there hasn’t been enough people to tackle the mountain of paperwork involved.
He did see it as a professional position, rather than a leadership position.
“I personally don’t want to get bogged down by the title,” Selectman Randy LaMattina said. “I think it’s the qualifications that we need to, as a board, decide that we’re looking to fill.”
Besides the human resources and grant writing, he said going to meetings is important.
Heineman said dealing with HR issues such as COVID requirements, family medical leave and other matters is a lot and is growing all the time, making it difficult for him to take care of that since Whitman has been without an assistant town administrator.
Kowalski agreed that asking them to work in the office on Fridays and attend meetings should not be an untoward requirement.
“The problem I’m trying for us to avoid is repeating what we just went through,” Bezanson said.
A joint meeting with Hanson Selectmen, and Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak has been set for 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 8 to review the school district’s fiscal 2023 budget and long-range school district sustainability, Heineman said.
“It’s not like a command performance,” Kowalski asked about an invitation extended to Szymaniak, schools Business manager John Stanbrook and School Committee Chairman Christopher Howard.
“We’re inviting them,” Heineman said. “I just heard before this meeting, that the School Committee might have posted that [meeting], it’s up t the School Committee. If the choose to post it, if they intend to have a quorum there, but our intent is a joint meeting between the two boards of selectmen.”
A meeting must be posted if at least a quorum of a board’s members plan to attend any given meeting or decide to gather to discuss committee or board business.
Kowalski said he had been texting with Howard that day, noting that Howard expressed a concern that the two boards intentions were different.
“He had heard that the Hanson board wanted a budget presentation, and I said that wasn’t really part of our intention,” Kowalski said. “Our intention was to, hopefully, come together with the Hanson board and come up with some common views about the budget that would help the School Committee in their deliberations.”
Heineman agreed that was Whitman’s intention.
LaMattina said he spoke with Hanson Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett and said that, while there may be individual intentions regarding questions, he does not believe that they were looking for a full [budget] presentation.
“I think the superintendent should be there to speak on a budget that he presented,” LaMattina said. “We should be able to ask questions about it.”
Salvucci suggested any selectman with questions could also watch a recording on WHCA-TV’s YouTube channel of the School Committee meeting in which the budget was presented.
“I’m thinking maybe the schools are looking for direction as to where both boards are standing as far as funding goes,” Salvucci said.
“I think that’s our intent,” Kowalski agreed.
“There’s been so much conversation over partnerships and, ‘We’re all in it together,’ I’m kind of taken aback that some people seem to think it’s unreasonable that two entities that fund this are not entitled to ask questions,” LaMattina said.
The town’s sewer force main project has received a bid that came in about $2 million under the amount appropriated, Heineman reported.
“Another piece of hoped-for, and we’re cautiously optimistic about [news] regarding the cost of the project, is that part of the force main is going underneath an old dump in Brockton,” he said. The land is between Whitman and Massasoit.
The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had previously said it would require directional drilling rather than trenching, which would be more expensive. The town’s consultant is inquiring about the possibility of being permitted to do some test borings in the dump area to see if digging a trench for that stretch of the pipeline would be environmentally permissible. The DEP is considering the request.
Estimated cost savings would be between $500,000 and $1 million in total project costs, if a trench is permitted.
In other business, Heineman reported that, on the COVID-19 front, the Board of Health had voted on Tuesday, Feb.15 to recommended removal of the mask mandate in town buildings. The state DPH has removed the mask recommendation effective except for those at increased risk due to health reasons, age or someone in the household with health risks or is in an at-risk age group. The mask requirement for schools ended Monday, Feb. 28.
The DPH continues to recommend masks for unvaccinated persons and in settings such as health care and public transportation. The CDC is recommending masks for people in “zones of high transimission.”
“We are now, according to their guidelines, in a low-transmission zone,” Heineman said, noting the people who are sick or coming off a five-day quarantine continue to mask.
The CDC is no longer requiring masks on school buses, Heineman reported.