He might not have the position of town administrator listed on his resume, but James “Jay” McGrail had enough relevant experience for the Marion Board of Selectmen to make haste on April 8 and offer McGrail the job as Marion’s new town administrator.
McGrail, a resident of Sandwich, told the board he was honored to be called in as a finalist for an interview, and described his 15 years as the director of operations for a municipal recreational facility, his one term on the Sandwich School Committee, and his current position as the director of facilities for Sandwich Public Schools.
It was during his employment at the Town of Hingham-owned South Shore Country Club that McGrail said he found his vocation in municipal management.
“That job helped me realize that one of the passions I have is municipal government,” said McGrail. “It was no question; I went to that [position] as a golf course guy and left … as a municipal manager.”
It was during this time that he gained experience in operating budgets, enterprise funds, working closely with other department heads, growing revenue, preparing agendas for the country club committee, learning about municipal law, project procurement, policy setting, and town meetings.
After a term as a school committee member during which he gained experience in contract negotiations, strategic planning, and building budgets, McGrail said he was recruited by that school district’s superintendent to fill the position of director of facilities, gaining further experience in employee management in project oversight. He also oversees the daily operations of the individual wastewater treatment plants located at each school, of which there are three, and it was this direct experience that only McGrail had of the three finalists interviewed that day. McGrail has even been going up against the Department of Environmental Protection with similar issues as the Town of Marion has with the DEP.
“All that experience … has guided me to the reality that what I want to be is a municipal manager,” said McGrail. In fact, he added, the Sandwich town manager has helped McGrail in guiding his career path, and McGrail has earned an MMA-Suffolk Certificate in Local Government Leadership & Management.
“Can you drive a trash truck?” Selectman John Waterman asked him, eliciting a chuckle amongst the selectmen of a town rife with trash truck woes.
During his first 90 days as town administrator, McGrail said he would focus on “building a team” and developing relationships with department heads and the various boards and committees, both elected and appointed.
“I’d develop a Monday morning meeting with key departments,” McGrail said, as a way of planning ahead for each week. “I’m not going to say any ridiculous statement like I will make a lot of changes right away, but what I want is to develop those relationships … so, when we work together on these complex problems, we’re all coming from the same side of the table.”
McGrail said he would also like to act fast to make the Town’s website more robust with more in-depth information to foster transparency, and he might even include a few podcasts for downloading.
McGrail said he believes in open communication with the townspeople and said his door would “always be open.”
“At the end of the day, you can’t make everybody happy,” McGrail said, “but you can listen to people’s concerns, respond – even if it’s just a quick email. … It goes a long way. I get complimented quite a bit on my responsiveness to emails and how accessible I am to people, and I think that helps people feel more confident. … Hear them out and listen to their concerns.
Marion has some unique potential for business development, thinks McGrail, especially if mixed-use commercial and residential is embraced.
“You don’t want to lose ‘Marion’; it’s why people live here,” McGrail commented – of course, he added, the wastewater treatment plant and the availability of municipal sewer to new business would have to be sorted first.
“None of this stuff is going be quick fixes, but, if we can show progress across the board, that would be great,” said Waterman.
After the interviews and with the board’s employment consultant Bernie Lynch on hand, the decision to hire McGrail seemed imminent.
“After listening to all three of them, I guess I would gravitate towards Jay as the most significant candidate,” said Selectmen Chairman Norm Hills. “The presentation – he’s done a lot of the things we need.”
“He came across stronger than he looked on paper,” said Waterman.
McGrail was initially overlooked as a finalist, but after one of the two finalists withdrew from consideration two weeks ago, the committee tasked with searching for a new town administrator revisited their short stack of qualifying applicants.
Hills said he was impressed by McGrail, and Selectman Randy Parker added, “I kind of like Jay, myself. I think he’s anxious to get into municipal government. It sounds like he’s willing to learn.”
“Should we take a vote?” Hills asked.
“Oh, definitely,” said the eager-to-retire Town Administrator Paul Dawson.
Parker suggested setting up contract negotiations right away, because, “We have to make sure the steps are immediate. I’m not so sure, he might be a finalist in another town.”
Lynch confirmed that yes, indeed, McGrail has been chosen as a finalist for another town.
“Let’s call him,” Dawson said, sounding even more eager.
At that, vote to hire McGrail was swift and unanimous.
The board also interviewed former Aquinnah Town Administrator Adam Wilson and Barnstable Treasurer Debra Blanchette.
McGrail’s employment is subject to successful contract negotiations that will begin on Thursday, April 11 during an afternoon executive session.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry