Oak Bluffs taps former Falmouth town manager for interim post

Robert Whritenour, former town manager in Falmouth, will be offered the corner office at Oak Bluffs town hall. — File photo by Mae Deary

Oak Bluffs selectmen agreed Tuesday to offer the job of interim town administrator to Robert Whritenour Jr. of Falmouth.

Mr. Whritenour, Falmouth town manager from 2001 to 2010, was the only candidate left for selectmen to consider following the withdrawal of Donald Andrew, one of two finalists in the search process.

Mr. Whritenour was an unsuccessful candidate for municipal positions in Quincy and Chatham earlier this year. Wednesday, a Truro official confirmed that Mr. Whritenour is one of three final candidates for the job of town administrator in the small Cape town.

Chairman Kathy Burton and selectman Gail Barmakian worked with the town’s labor lawyer Wednesday to craft an offer for the 49-year-old career municipal administrator.

In a telephone conversation Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Burton told The Times that selectmen have not discussed the salary range they want to offer Mr. Whritenour.

Ms. Burton said she had not yet contacted Mr. Whritenour to offer him the job. Ms. Burton said she did not know he is a finalist for the Truro job.

In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Whritenour said he had not yet heard officially from the Oak Bluffs selectmen and wanted to reserve any substantive comment.

“I heard about the vote, and I was absolutely delighted,” Mr. Whritenour said. “I think it would be an extremely interesting professional challenge. I’m going to wait to hear from the board of selectmen, but I’m very serious about my interest.”

Selectmen said they will begin the process of searching for a permanent town administrator immediately to replace former town administrator Michael Dutton. Mr. Dutton’s job ended July 31, following his negotiated resignation in the wake of several financial and procedural problems.

Mr. Whritenour earned $134,418 in 2009, his last full year of employment in Falmouth. Mr. Dutton’s annual salary was $117,000.

Mr. Whritenour oversaw a $107 million budget for a town of 34,000 year-round Falmouth residents, according to his resume. The Oak Bluffs budget is considerably smaller, totalling $24.7 million.

“I feel uniquely qualified to step right in and make a positive contribution to the town,” Mr. Whritenour wrote in applying for the position. “I am also interested in becoming the permanent town administrator for Oak Bluffs, and I am particularly encouraged to see that the interim town administrator may be a candidate for the permanent position. This would be a great way for the town to establish a relationship with its professional administrator and to fully evaluate real performance before making a permanent appointment.”

Last man standing

Before the vote Tuesday, selectmen Mike Santoro and Walter Vail reported on their check of references and other information.

“He’s very goal-oriented,” Mr. Santoro said. “He could step on some toes, but [in past positions] he’s got the job done. Everything I’ve heard, I talked with some business people I know, nothing but positive feedback.”

Selectmen were aware, however, that Mr. Whritenour’s time in Falmouth was sometimes stormy.

“Like any candidate, you’re going to find criticism,” Mr. Vail said. “Without getting into detail, there are criticisms of Mr. Whritenour which, in my view, don’t take him out of the running. He has the strong financial background that we need right now.”

Mr. Whritenour and Oak Bluffs homeowner Donald Andrew emerged on a short list whittled down from six people interviewed for the interim position. But about an hour after selectmen named him a finalist on August 6, Mr. Andrew withdrew his name from consideration.

Mr. Vail and selectman Gail Barmakian advocated for another candidate, Stanley Arend, a municipal administrator who worked most recently in California. He was the first candidate interviewed for the job.

“If we had known Don would bow out, we would have picked one other finalist,” Ms. Barmakian said. “I don’t see the need to be confined to one.”

The other three selectmen disagreed.

“We need to move forward now,” Mr. Santoro said. “We decided on two people, one bowed out, we’re down to one.”

Falmouth record

Mr. Whritenour left the Falmouth town manager position after his relationship with Falmouth selectmen soured quickly. Several selectmen worked publicly and privately to remove him from the job over a six-month period in 2010, according to published news reports.

Among the issues that strained relations was a complaint of sexual harassment filed by a town employee against Mr. Whritenour. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) later ruled the claim was unfounded.

Falmouth selectmen also charged that Mr. Whritenour improperly released information about a town official’s criminal record. The state Criminal History Systems Board also cleared him of any wrongdoing, according to news reports.

Over the summer and fall of 2010, selectmen negotiated his departure. He resigned quietly in November, with selectmen saying very little publicly about the matter.

Not interested

Mr. Andrew said in his letter to selectmen that he withdrew after consulting with local and state officials on the scope of the town’s financial crisis.

The Oak Bluffs homeowner, who once worked in the town’s finance department, delivered a letter to town hall late on the afternoon of August 3, asking that selectmen no longer consider him a candidate.

“I have talked with several former officials relative to this and what the town is facing in the short-term and the long-term,” Mr. Andrew wrote. “I have also been in contact with people in the Division of Local Services (Massachusetts Department of Revenue). After a great deal of thought and discussion with members of my own family, I have decided that the position, even in the short-term, requires more than I am able to give at this point in time and accordingly request that you give no further consideration to me for this important position. I remain happy to talk with you at any time as you and your new administrator face the difficult decisions ahead to bring Oak Bluffs out of the present state it is in. I do believe the town can return, once again, to the leadership status it once enjoyed among the Island communities and can be looked upon as such by all.”

In a phone conversation Wednesday, Mr. Andrew said the town faces immediate and serious problems.

“There’s a lot of pain ahead, that’s for sure,” Mr. Andrew said. “For me to have gone in for 60 to 90 days, I wouldn’t have even been treading water, I would have just been trying to push it back.”