Former selectman is new Oak Bluffs administrator
Mike Dutton is picked over Kerry Scott objection
Following an hour-long interview, the Oak Bluffs selectmen voted Monday to hire former selectman Michael Dutton to be the new town administrator. Mr. Dutton was the only candidate interviewed.
There were two finalists, Mr. Dutton and Stanley Arend, a public official from California with Island roots. But at the start of Monday's scheduled interviews, selectmen learned that Mr. Arend had accepted another job in California.
Selectmen Greg Coogan, Roger Wey, and chairman Duncan Ross voted yes on Mr. Coogan's motion to hire Mr. Dutton. Selectman Kerry Scott, who objected to the selection process, abstained.
Michael Dutton. File photo by Ezra Blair
Mr. Dutton will replace town administrator Casey Sharpe, who resigned May 9 after serving as the town's executive secretary for two years and as its town administrator for almost four years.
Last week a screening committee appointed by the selectmen narrowed a pool of five applicants down to Mr. Dutton and Mr. Arend, whose family owns the Samoset Inn in Oak Bluffs. In a telephone call
Saturday, Mr. Arend told Ms. Sharpe that he had accepted another administrative position in California.
During Monday morning's discussion, Ms. Scott argued against making a choice and insisted that the search be reopened and widened by advertising in mainland newspapers.
But the three board members spoke glowingly about Mr. Dutton, saying he was highly qualified and a good fit for the position.
"We could spend a lot of time on this issue if we wanted to, but we have a unique applicant here," Mr. Coogan said just before the vote. "The most important thing for this town is for everybody to take some responsibility in moving this town forward and not looking over our shoulder."
In comments following the meeting, Ms. Scott said she objected to the process, not the candidate.
"I do think Michael is capable of doing a really good job, but I don't think we did a really good job," said Ms. Scott. "Advertising only in the local newspaper doesn't allow us to access a qualified pool of possible administrators."
Mr. Dutton left immediately after the interview and was not present for the vote. In a telephone conversation the morning after he learned he had the job, Mr. Dutton said he was happy with the board's decision and "ready to hit to ground running."
Mr. Dutton said he was not disturbed by the reluctance of Ms. Scott to make the vote unanimous. "I understand her concern, and if I were in her position I would very likely feel the same way," he said. "I don't have enough of an ego to let that bother me, and I have enough of an ego to be very confident that I am the best person for the job. Communication is key, and I may disagree with somebody, but certainly that won't get in the way of our working relationship."
Ms. Sharpe, who was due to leave at the end of the week, said the selectmen had made a good decision.
"There is no better choice," she said in a telephone conversation Monday. "We have different management styles - he will be the first to tell you that - but he is perfectly suited to the role."
Getting to know you
Although the selectmen spent almost one hour interviewing Mr. Dutton, they admitted that most of the standard questions were unnecessary. "We all know who you are, you sat with us," Mr. Coogan said of Mr. Dutton's seven-year tenure on the board of selectmen.
Many of the questions included veiled references to the increasing friction that has framed town affairs. The resignation of Ms. Sharpe was blamed in part on what some town officials said was repeated meddling in Ms. Sharpe's day-to-day operations by selectmen, specifically Ms. Scott. Recent votes and discussions have also exposed a fault line on the board, with Mr. Coogan and Mr. Ross often lining up on one side and Ms. Scott and Mr. Wey on the other. (A special election is scheduled for Aug. 8 to fill out the five-member board. They have been operating with only four members since Mr. Dutton's resignation May 22.)
Mr. Coogan, a Tisbury School teacher, said his main concern was how Mr. Dutton planned to find his place in the increasingly turbulent Oak Bluffs political landscape.
"Casey found the environment to not work for her. How do you think you can change that?" Mr. Coogan asked.
Mr. Dutton, an attorney, said that healthy debate is welcome, but the town administrator is not supposed to make political decisions. He called the Oak Bluffs political environment "vibrant, loud and contentious," but assured selectmen that his strength is to thrive in that kind of atmosphere.
Ms. Scott, a retail business owner, also referenced the tensions among town officials, conceding, "We've often been thought of as cultivating a culture of secrecy." She asked if as a practicing lawyer, Mr. Dutton's instinct would be to add to that.
"Whether perception or reality, that should change," Mr. Dutton told Ms. Scott. "I will be adamant that the culture of this town should be an open, free flow of information."
More than once, an interview question became less a question and more an opportunity for individual board members to express frustration with the state of town political affairs and the resulting newspaper coverage.
Referencing recent news stories published in the Vineyard Gazette that insinuated wrongdoing by town officials and relied only on comments by Ms. Scott and Mr. Wey, Mr. Coogan said, "One paper likes to embarrass us on the front page on a weekly basis, and I would like that to stop."
Mr. Wey, a Dukes County commissioner and executive director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging, disagreed with that assessment and curtly replied that everything printed was "appropriate."
During the interview, Ms. Scott said she did not want to take to take up time allotted for questioning Mr. Dutton, but that she "reserved the right to editorialize" at the end of the meeting, which she did. Ms. Scott said that she was unhappy with the selection process, and that it had become "horrifically politicized."
A chief objection cited by Ms. Scott was the choice of language used to advertise the job on the town's website which read, "The Oak Bluffs selectmen seek qualified applicants willing to serve as its chief administrative officer." Ms. Scott said the verb "willing" turned possible applicants away, and should have been replaced by "eager" or "qualified."
"In the event that someone would have applied but didn't because of the political tenor, that is a loss to all of us," Ms. Scott said.