The Halifax Board of Selectmen met on Wednesday, June 8, to discuss the candidates they interviewed a week prior for the open town administrator position. They said that they had received negative feedback from the public regarding the candidates’ lack of experience. On June 1, the Selectmen interviewed Dennis Gallagher, Heather Martin-Sterling, and Ed Swartz. Gallagher is the Director of the Braintree Retirement System and has extensive experience as a town councilor and former member of the Board of Selectmen as well as Finance Committee experience. Martin-Sterling is the current Town Administrator for the town of Berkley for the last two years with previous experience as a Selectman and a background in finance. Swartz, who is in the private sector, has extensive municipal experience in the city of Taunton as a councilor. Swartz also served as Chair of the Dighton Finance Committee prior to them having a Town Administrator making him responsible for the preparation of the town budget.
Bernie Lynch, founder of Community Paradigm Associates, LLC, led the town’s search for a new town administrator. Lynch said, “To get someone that has been a town administrator or an assistant town administrator, there aren’t that many assistants out there – in this region, most of the positions have turned over. The two communities that have assistants that might have been interested and I’ll leave it at that are the assistant from Plymouth – she’s now in Bourne and the assistant from Bourne who’s now in Rochester.”
He continued, “And then in terms of town administrators that are interested in moving – part of the problem that you have is you are, you really are an entry level town administrator position. Who around here is going to move, you might get a department head, you might get a finance person, you might get a planner, but they won’t have been town administrator.”
He pointed out that one of the applicants is a current town administrator despite it only having been part-time and with a couple of years’ experience. “Over the last 5 or 6 years, two-thirds of the communities in Massachusetts have turned over their town administrators; that’s a shocking amount,” Lynch said. He told the Selectmen, “That’s what you’re up against.” He explained that it was the reason they are now faced with some “unconventional” candidates.
Lynch said that if they were to open the search once again, he would need a clearer picture of what they were requesting in terms of qualifications. “I don’t want to speak negatively of the three candidates; I thought they all had pluses to them. The things that I’m kind of hoping we might find – a little bit more grant experience and then certified procurement. I don’t know if those are unicorns right now but those were kind of the two areas where I hoped we might have candidates with a little more experience,” Selectman Jonathan Selig said. Lynch said, “I was a manager for thirty years, I was never MCPPO [Massachusetts Certified Public Purchasing Official].” Current interim Town Administrator Ed Thorne said that he never was either. To answer Lynch’s original question regarding what qualifications they were looking for, all three Selectmen said that they would be fine with the previous experience being that of an assistant town administrator.
Selectman Alex Meade asked how many original candidates there were prior to them being whittled down to three. Lynch said that originally there were 25 candidates of which the Tier Two included a Veteran’s Agent, a Fire Chief, a Finance Committee member, an Environmental Planner, and a Community Development Director. The top tier candidates were the three brought in for interviews.
Lynch asked the Selectmen, “How open are you to increasing the salary?” Meade asked, “What percentage do you think would be fair to draw more qualified applicants?” Lynch said that while there were no guarantees, he felt that increasing to $140,000 to $150,000 might help.
The Selectmen discussed opening the search back up again that night, June 8, for two weeks with a proposed date of July 13 for interviews. “I’m really going to have some remorse if we are sitting here on July 13 and now we are down to two candidates,” Meade said referencing the possibility of one of the current three candidates dropping out of contention. DiSesa said that the Board could elect to choose one of the three candidates currently on the table. Selig said, “Again, I don’t want to speak poorly of our candidates because I think they are all qualified candidates, was there a candidate that checks all the boxes and was a slam dunk, in my opinion, no. Who’s to say the people we bring in are going to check all our boxes so you’re rolling the dice but let’s say we find someone who does.” Selig asked how common it is for a community to repost after being unhappy with a set of candidates. Lynch called it “relatively rare.” The Selectmen officially voted to reopen the search as discussed.
Covid Leave policy
The Selectmen also discussed an updated COVID leave policy. “The question is are we as the town, or as the Selectmen, going to continue with the policy… now that the town isn’t being reimbursed,” DiSesa said referring to the practice of paying employees who are out sick with COVID.
“I don’t want to sound crass, and I care about the people that work for this town but if we aren’t being reimbursed for it than it shouldn’t be on our shoulders, if that’s the State policy,” Meade said. The Selectmen were in favor of ending the policy that allowed town employees to be paid without using their sick time when out with COVID.
Town Accountant Sandra Nolan said that she felt that employees shouldn’t have to use their sick time if they were exposed and told by a department head to go home. The Selectmen agreed that they saw both sides of the argument but that the financial burden to the town to continue the policy would be too great. They voted to end the policy.