What strengths, experience, and skills will the new town administrator have, preferable, and what are the challenges facing Marion that he or she must be ready to face? This was the jumping off point for the Marion Board of Selectmen on Wednesday, December 19, as it held a special meeting to get the town administrator search underway with the assistance of professional recruiter, Bernard Lynch.
Lynch, the former city manager for the City of Lowell, wants the input of Town House and Town department staff in addition to the selectmen, “And then we can create a profile,” said Lynch. “That’s a tool for us to market the position but, I also think it’s a valuable process for us to go through because when we talk to candidates we can speak intelligently about the town.”
Selectman Jon Waterman was curious and asked Lynch, “Is the position relatively attractive (to applicants)?”
“Some people like small towns,” said Lynch. “I try to see the silver lining behind every community. … We try to put this together in a way that would appeal to a candidate.” Lynch said often the area’s amenities, cultural institutions, and prospects of a spouse finding work in their field attract candidates. “This particular area of Massachusetts, I think, has an appeal,” said Lynch.
The board knows why they love Marion and the surrounding Southcoast, but Marion – the small town with big issues – is not without its challenges, which Lynch asked selectmen to list in order to get a better idea of Marion’s needs in a new town administrator.
Water, sewer, digitizing town records… “Town infrastructure really is our key challenge,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Norm Hills.
“Money, money, and money,” Waterman said, pointing to Proposition 2 ½ as an obstacle to funding much of Marion’s needs. “Followed by more money,” interjected Hills. “Right now we’re in a big go-around with our wastewater treatment plant.”
“That’s why experience in wastewater treatment management is important,” Waterman said.
Also, as Hills pointed out, the Town is just about to address imminent climate change effects and the town’s sustainability and ability to adapt.
“Sounds like it’s going to take a certain person and a little ‘packaging,’” Waterman said about the position. And it is uncertain if one of the candidates would be an internal candidate, Dawson suggested.
The board tossed around some qualities the right person would possess for the job, including one who is a good communicator, knowledgeable in municipal processes, and someone perhaps “a little bit ahead of us” in technology, said Waterman. Experience and interest in solid waste and recycling management is a big one, Hills said.
“And no doubt strong – I mean really strong capital planning background and implementation all around,” said Dawson, “because there are so many moving parts here. … There has to be a lot of time managing and budgeting how you’re gonna fit the pieces of this puzzle together.”
The way Lynch screens applicants is by funneling resumes into categories: qualified, not qualified, and a third category, “interesting.”
“Some of them might not have experience in the position, maybe they’re department heads … but somebody you should look at,” Lynch said.
The selectmen had already chosen to appoint a hiring committee to review candidates Lynch will screen and present, which has been condensed from a seven-member committee into a committee of five – one selectman, one department head, and three citizens. Lynch will also attend the meetings, but not as a voting committee member.
The holidays have inadvertently set the Town back in its progress of the search process that could take as long as 16 weeks – about a couple weeks beyond the time current Town Administrator Paul Dawson will remain in his position until he retires on March 15.
“We’ve done it in 12,” said Lynch, “but I don’t think we could do it in less than 10.”
Lynch estimates that he would have a candidate profile to present by mid-January and accept resumes until mid-February. Hiring committee meetings would start shortly after and begin interviews the first week of March, with the Board of Selectmen to make a final selection during the week of March 18. If the candidate were currently a town administrator, it would take another 30 days for them to provide their current town proper notice.
“So you would have someone on May 1,” said Lynch – just in time to present the new hire to the community during the proposed May 13 Annual Town Meeting.
Lynch said he would also be interviewing town employees and members of the administration to gauge the type of town administrator they would prefer to work with.
“The first thing they’ll say is we don’t want a micromanager,” said Lynch. “No one wants a micromanager.” Although, Hills pointed out, some among the Board of Selectmen could be considered “micromanagers.”
“Sounds like we have some interesting work ahead of us,” said Lynch.
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is tentatively scheduled for January 8 at 4:30 pm, either at the Marion Police Station or the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Jean Perry