WHITMAN — The Board of Selectmen voted to offer the position of assistant town administrator to Stoughton Assistant to the Town Manager Rogeria Medeiros-Kowalczykowski.
She has also served as the executive secretary to the town manager, affirmative action officer, administrative assistant to the town manager, Finance Committee and Board of Health as well as senior clerk/town clerk, with 33 years of experience in town government service.
The board had initially selected Medeiros-Kowalczykowski, on a 3-2 vote, with Selectmen Dr. Carl Kowalski voting for Millbury acting Finance Director James F. Kelley and Dan Salvucci voting for Captain Ranger for the Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation Jake Dodge. The board changed the vote to a unanimous one in the interest of unity. The selection becomes official when contract terms agreed to.
The search attracted some 90 applicants, of which the search subcommittee of Kowalski, Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman and Selectman Justin Evans interviewed eight semi-finalists to narrow the field to the three interviewd by the entire board: Medeiros-Kowalczykowski, Dodge and Kelley.
Kelley has also served as interim town manager and human resources director in Millbury, he filled the same roles in Stoughton from 2012 to 2017, where he was also acting town clerk for six months in 2013 and he was a human resources administrator in Sterling.
Dodge has also served as a Lt. Ranger supervising DCR rangers at the State House as well as acting chief ranger and has been a reserve police officer in the Whitman Police Department.
“I’d say we have three really strong candidates, and they all have their own strengths and, perhaps, weaknesses or errors of opportunity,” Heineman said. “I think, in many ways, [Medeiros-Kowalczykowski’s] skill set and past match – quite precisely, in many ways – the job description that we identified.”
He said his decision was largely made when checking her references.
“Three of her five identified references were people that she had worked directly for and we didn’t necessarily experience that with the other two candidates,” he said. “That said to me a lot about her ability and her past in serving – and coming back to that idea of service that, I think, in many ways is this role.”
“I agree with Lincoln on this,” Selectman Brian Bezanson said. “This job description Lincoln put out could have been her resume. … [Her] references were wonderful. I have this gut feeling … that she’s the one. I think she could hit the ground running, she’s smart, competent … I think she’d be a great addition to the town of Whitman.”
He said when he dismisses his gut feeling is when he gets into trouble.
Kowalski said all three would make excellent assistant town administrators, but cast his vote for Kelley.
“We have a very lean administration,” he said, noting that Kelley had ticked off what Whitman lacks – such as town planners and HR directors – which the administrator and assistant must take on. Both Kelley and Medeiros-Kowalczykowski have the length of experience and skills to do the work.
“I was impressed by [Kelley] tonight,” he said, pointing to the refences the received about him. “On the other hand [Medeiros-Kowalczykowski] worked for 30 years in Stoughton doing all of those tasks. … It’s a tough choice for all of us.
Selectman Randy LaMattina said the board had an “absolutely great” pool of candidates, especially the finalists. He said he used the posted job description as his own personal check list and said there were two candidates who hit all the qualifications: Medeiros-Kowalczykowski and Kelley.
“Coming into the night, on paper, I had one candidate and was kind of blown out of the water, personally in the interview,” LaMattina said. “I see areas where we could fill some void with Mr. Kelley.”
Kelley’s planning experience was very impressive and the way he presented himself earned some consideration, according to LaMattina.
Evans, who had already interviewed all the candidates before, said he was expecting the process to go one way, but said Kelley could come in and “possibly mentor Lincoln” on some things. He said that could be a valuable thing to add and asked about his reference checks.
“I think the general feeling was very positive toward him,” he said. “I do think all three candidates could do the job. Mr. Dodge, coming in, would have a little bit of training to do, but that’s not something we haven’t done in the past.”
But he cast his vote for Medeiros-Kowalczykowski, who really does check all the boxes, he said.
“Considering we’re filling a current vacancy in the town administrator’s office, I’m going to put a lot of weight behind Lincoln’s recommendation and say [Medeiros-Kowalczykowski],” Evans said.
He also said the town recently hired a new accountant and, during that search a lot of weight was put on the former town administrator and assistant town administator’s decision-making process. When the search committee seemed torn, they left it to the town administrator, who would end up working with the person hired.
“I put a lot of faith in that and we have two candidates who clearly have qualifications, and we need someone who can fill the role in the absence of [town administrator] Lincoln, who should be able to use his time.”
He flagged the learning curve Dodge would represent.
“She’s done just about everything that we ask,” Evans said. “It seems she could hit the ground running if hired, so we have a good challenge in front of us for this.”
Heineman said, but added that he did not hear back from two of Kelley’s references, despite leaving two messages. One reference – someone Kelley mentored, which Heineman found meaningful. The other was the chairman of an elected board who Kelley had worked with in finding a new library director. But said his answer to Evans’ question would be partly incomplete.
Salvucci’s pick was Dodge, despite Kelley’s greater experience and Medeiros-Kowalczykowski’s stellar employment history and low-key demeanor, he saw a person looking to advance, despite less longevity in her career.
“The only thing is, I’m looking for a long-term employee,” he said. “When he’s saying he’s going to be four years and then he’s done, I’m saying we’re going to be back in this situation four years from now.”
While Dodge was the least experienced of the three, Salvucci voted for him because he’s a young go-getter who gets along with people and looks like a good problem-solver.
“I think he’s a learner,” Salvucci said.
During the discussion following the interviews, Heineman said he disagreed with Kelley’s comment about the “three to four year average” of town administrators when he was questioned about his longevity plans should he be selected.
“The most important mentors that I’ve had in this field, and continue to have in this field, have much longer longevity,” he said. “I hope and plan to follow their lead and hope to be here, managing and leading, for many years.”