HANSON — The Board of Selectmen, in a special meeting on Saturday, Nov. 16, extended a conditional offer of employment as town administrator to John Stanbrook of Middleborough.
The offer is contingent upon completion of a background review and investigation by consulting firm Municipal Resources Inc., and successful negotiation of terms of employment by the Board of Selectmen.
The board interviewed three finalists — Stanbrook, who is now assistant town manager/finance director in Mansfield, Lincoln Heineman of Scituate, currently the finance director in Hanover; and Richard LaFond of Bridgewater, who is now Abington’s town manager. A fourth candidate withdrew their name from consideration before the interviews with selectmen.
Mike Gallagher, acting town administrator in North Attleboro, had initially applied, telling MRI staff that he was not interested in the town manager position to which his town was transitioning. When he informed his appointing authority they made him a more tempting offer Gallagher felt he could not turn down and withdrew his name.
“He was torn by it,” said MRI consultant Bob Mercier.
The board conducted the back-to-back interviews followed by their deliberation and conditional offer during the all-day session.
“I’m thrilled to be doing this with you guys, I think it’s one of the most important things we’ll do,” Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said to the board before the interviews began.
MRI senior management consultants Reginald “Buzz” Stapscynski and Mercier kicked off the meeting with an overview of the recruitment process they followed. They called all three finalists after the meeting to inform them of the Selectmen’s decision.
MRI met with department heads and conducted listening sessions with members of the public to help construct a profile of the traits Hanson was seeking in a town administrator, according to Stapscynski.
“We want to ensure the people we bring forth as finalists have knowledge about the community,” he said.
Based on their conversations with selectmen MRI searched for candidates with a bachelor’s degree in public management or relevant training and experience, a proven record of thoughtful financial management, and strategic capital planning. Creativity and the ability to identify innovative solutions to complex municipal issues, strong public speaking and presentation skills, extensive experience in collective bargaining, and electronic media skills were also preferred.
“That’s important for us, because the cookie cutter regular town administrator — in our experience, there is some movement away from that,” Mercier said. “There are some other talented folks who didn’t come out with an MBA but they can certainly do the job.”
MRI also heard a lot of people in Hanson asked for a person who listens, communicates well, and will empower town employees.
Selectmen felt Stanbrook filled the criteria best, after asking each finalist the same core of 15 questions, with some follow-ups on specific issues for some. LaFond, for example, was asked a half-dozen questions by Selectman Matt Dyer about a police contract negotiation that took four years.
LaFond said negotiation goals were frequently changed during the process, delaying a conclusion.
Heineman’s length of time on various positions listed on his resume was also a concern voiced by Selectmen, as was his security in his position in Hanover.
“The first thing [MRI consultants advise] was fit,” said Selectman Jim Hickey. “For me personally, and the town as a whole, I just don’t think Lincoln is a good fit.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said he was certainly qualified, but agreed.
“I thought [Stanbrook] had a real 360 perspective on things,” she said. “He’s been elected, he’s been appointed. He’s worked his way through various levels of government and would probably have gotten the town manager’s job if it wasn’t for the residency requirement.”
He said he was offered the town manager’s job in Mansfield, but that town had a residency requirement when the offer came, he and his wife had just bought their house in Middleborough.
“He understands that it’s not really his opinion that is — his judgment, we’re looking for, but we’re not really looking for his opinion politically,” she said. “He really seems to understand consensus building.”
Selectmen Kenny Mitchell said that, while LaFond’s experience stood out, Stanbrook seems humble and has had longevity at previous positions.
“He was a union member for 22 years,” said Selectman Jim Hickey, who has been a Teamsters member on his job for about 30 years. “Similar to me sitting on this side of the table, I do what I think is what’s best for the town, but I like that he has that background.”
Selectman Matt Dyer, who commutes to his own job through Mansfield said he has seen how that town has been revitalized and praised Stanbrook’s consensus-building, as well and strongly endorsed him.
“He’s not overpowering, he’s not going to come in with intimidation or anything like that,” Dyer said. “He can take that team and can start working on these projects like revitalizing downtown.”
Selectman Wes Blauss said he liked the number of endorsements LaFond provided and his answer to the succession question, which may not have been what the board wanted to hear — that there never has been such a plan in place or may be likely to.
“I did think Rick LaFond was realistic,” Blauss said.
“You don’t get the experience until you get the experience,” Hickey said. “That’s why I go back to fit. … Both candidates are strong, but I think with John, Hanson could get stronger.”
Questions centered on the regional schools assessment issue, economic development, customer service for residents, their knowledge of Hanson, how they resolve personnel problems and deal with fallout from social media, among other issues.
Stanbrook, whose father was the first Hanson store manager when Shaw’s was the Brockton Public Market, (BPM) and often accompanied his dad on Sundays to check on the store, which was closed on Sundays then. He started his own working life in grocery, where he was a strong union member for more than 20 years.
When he moved from Brockton to Halifax and wanted to know a bit about that town, Stanbrook attended Town Meeting and applied for appointment to the Finance Committee. He loved that work and his municipal career began there. He became the Halifax town accountant after having been elected to that town’s school committee.
“I like the smaller town, hands-on approach, I like getting my hands dirty and doing things myself,” Stanbrook said, adding he does delegate responsibilities, too. “I’m looking for a new challenge.”
Stanbrook has been in municipal government for 15 years and said Hanson’s commuter rail station and the Main Street corridor offer a lot of potential for redevelopment.
“I think you’ll agree with me that potential is always exciting and that’s why I get out of bed — the potential of what’s going to happen that day,” he said. “There’s nothing worse in life than seeing potential wasted.”
He said he believes Hanson has a lot of potential.
While he acknowledged that, in a job interview setting, he would be referring to himself a lot, but stressed he works with others as a team to accomplish goals.
On the regional schools assessment issue, Stanbrook said he wants to hear the board’s opinion, but is willing to talk to Whitman officials.
“I want to know why,” he said. “Coming from outside I want to know why the assessments are going up and why they want to shift more of a burden to this town.”
Mitchell asked each applicant what they saw as their role as town administrator and how they would go about establishing priorities and the importance of open space and conservation.
Stanbrook said his role would be to get the most accurate information to the board as quickly as possible to allow Selectmen to make decisions, as well as managing town employees.
Blauss asked about encouraging teamwork in the workplace and who applicants most admire.
“I like trying to build consensus,” Stanbrook said, adding he likes to encourage open dialog. “I want to hear what everyone has to say. Once people realize that it’s OK to say what they think … you start getting really good ideas from people.”
He also said he most admires John F. Kennedy, for whom he was named.
Dyer asked each candidate to site their greatest strengths and weaknesses as well as a nine-month stint working for Cohasset, which Stanbrook said was so short because of the declining health and death of his father.
Stanbrook said he is a strong consensus-builder and he is weakest in dealing with people for whom “the best interest of the town has no meaning for them.” He admitted he struggles with that.
Hickey sought to determine how much homework applicants had done on Hanson.
“What can you tell us about the community … and, more importantly, what can you tell us about us,” Hickey asked.
Stanbrook said that living one town over for a lot of years gave him the opportunity to observe Hanson.
“I really do feel that the town has been well-run, but needs stronger leadership at the top and someone who can implement decisions that are being made here,” he said, stressing he was not trying to slam anyone. “I think it’s been a very well-run town, … a stronger person at the top in this position would do better. … This town needs strong leadership and a good working relationship with selectmen.”
While he worked on learning who Selectmen are, Stanbrook emphasized he comes to the town with a clean slate.
FitzGerald-Kemmett focused on the economic development needs of Main Street. Stanbrook said Hanson is similar to Mansfield in the presence of the train station area, which needed a facelift.
Mansfield has seen development of four-story apartment complexes around the MBTA station.
“That’s what worked in Mansfield, I’m not sure if it would work here,” he said. “There is a segment of the population in Mansfield that doesn’t like four story buildings because that type of thing is bringing more growth. … It starts the snowball going.”
He said bringing people together to build consensus is the best approach.
She also asked Stanbrook where he saw himself in 10 years.
“Sitting right here,” he said. “I’m not interested in skipping to the next town.”
He added that, when it is time for him to retire, he planned to have someone in place who could step forward to fill the position.
“I would try to recruit someone,” he said. “I don’t want to leave the town in any worse spot. … I’d want to make sure whoever would take over my position … could just step right in tomorrow and be able to do it.”
Stanbrook said the reason for government is to serve the public and get information they request to them. That kind of transparency is something MRI consultants said is demanded by the public even more today.
“The public arena in general today [is saying] you better be transparent and you better be open to the public because people are going to find out, one way or the other,” Mercier said. “We want the next administrator to be open and transparent.”
Leadership skills were also important.
“We want a leader that people will have confidence in, that you will have confidence in, that will bring this community to the next level,” Mercier said.
There were 39 initial respondents, the majority of which were from Massachusetts. Some were quickly dismissed as lacking the right skill sets, bringing the field to 14, who were asked to provide essays. Only two failed to respond. Six of the 39, and one of the 14 sent essay questions were women. Only 12 of the 14 returned essays.
The essays were scored on content and grammar and narrowed the field to nine for phone interviews.
They said they each called two people they thought might be a good applicant, but stressed they receive no financial remuneration from those they called.
“Our loyalty is to you,” Stapscynski said.
Full interviews may be streamed at youtube.com/user/WHCA9TV.