Selectmen approve expanded town administrator job description, appoint screening committee

by susan on May 18, 2012

With Town Administrator Jean Kitchen retiring at the end of next month, the Board of Selectmen said they must move quickly to find a replacement. At a meeting last week they put their stamp of approval on a new job description – one that expands the role of the town administrator – and appointed members to a committee charged with screening applicants.

The new job description, which was approved unanimously by selectmen at their meeting on May 10, gives the town administrator more authority and responsibility. Selectmen sought to expand the role after the Town Manager proposal failed at Town Meeting last month.

Kitchen provided a copy of the job description at the close of the meeting last week. You can see it here. Note that the job description is currently being reviewed by Town Counsel to ensure there are no conflicts with town bylaw or state statute, so changes could still be made.

At the meeting last week, selectmen also appointed a 6-member screening committee. In the interest of time, and in an effort to find individuals with relevant skills, selectman said they identified potential appointees rather than put out a public call for members.

“Because time is of the essence, selectmen individually sent names to (Assistant Town Administrator Vanessa Hale),” Selectman John Rooney said. “This is something that needs to be done immediately…The committee needs to hit the ground running.”

Appointed to the committee were Russell Millholland, Sue Baust, Brian Donovan, Phil Jenks, Joe Lanning, and Paul Cimino. (Full disclosure: Phil Jenks is my father.)

Selectman Bill Boland said all of the committee members were “highly qualified.” The board unanimously approved the appointments.

The screening committee held their first meeting yesterday morning. The Metrowest Daily News reports they hopes to have a list of finalists by September.

1 Tim Martel May 18, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Shouldn’t the description include the length of the term (i.e. 1 or 3 years)?

2 Al Hamilton May 19, 2012 at 7:51 AM

Tim:

I think the term is typically called out in the employment contract. Senior Town employees typically have contracts. For better and worse those contracts protect the employees from short term political pressure if they make an unpopular decision. Citizens can demand the relevant executive board or official fire an unpopular employee but the will receive considerable compensation if dismissed.

On the whole I think this job description is pretty good. There are probably a few items that need refining or by law changes to implement. For example the TA can only be delegated powers that the Selectmen actually have and they do not have the authority to assemble a Town Wide budget. If this is a wise thing to do then it requires a by law change.

I am uncertain if the Police Cheif or Fire Chief can report to a TA. Answering that question is a job for Town Counsel.

Assuming this goes forward, the real challenge will happen once the new TA gets here. Making this system work will require real commitment on the part of the BOS to back the TA. We don’t change course on the good ship Southborough very often and the steering gear might be a bit rusty. It will probably squeak and groan for a while.

3 Tim Martel May 19, 2012 at 3:14 PM

Its state law that a Town Admin serves a 1 or 3 year term. I’d just think that fact would be an important consideration for any applicant.
Chapter 41, Section 23A: “A town may by vote or by-law authorize and empower the selectmen to appoint an executive secretary or town administrator who may be appointed by them for a term of one or three years and to remove him at their discretion.”

I don’t think a bylaw can allow the assembling of a town-wide budget, especially if the Schools are involved or anything else not under the purview of the BOS. I think it would require at least an Act (and more than that to impact the schools).

On the other hand, others towns like Topsfield have been able to make the police and fire chiefs report to the Town Admin.

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