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Spurning its search panel, county sets manager finalistsBypassing the recommendation of their appointed selection committee to re-advertise the position because of a dearth of completely qualified candidates, the Dukes County commissioners decided that five of the 12 candidates who applied for the vacant job of Dukes County manager meet the advertised criteria.
The screening committee had decided on Sept. 27 that none of the candidates met the advertised criteria and recommended the commissioners reopen the search process, but in a meeting on Oct. 18, the county commissioners looked at the 12 candidates' qualifications, but they did not come to the same conclusion arrived at by the seven people the commissioners appointed in August to screen candidates. The commissioners decided that five of the applicants met their criteria.
In a letter dated Oct. 19 to Greg Coogan, Oak Bluffs selectman and screening committee chairman, the county commissioners said they understood how difficult and time consuming it can be to review applications and thanked the screening committee for their time and effort.
The job of county manager was left vacant following the resignation of Mr. Davis from the job that paid him $79,194 annually to be the county's chief executive.
The resignation of Mr. Davis, who left his job on August 17, was made against the backdrop of an ongoing, thorough, and far-ranging examination of county government by a specially created county charter study commission.
A round of telephone calls to the five finalists whittled the list of names selected by the county commissioners to three. The commissioners have not made the names public.
Paul Strauss, county commission chairman, told The Times Tuesday that the names would be made public when the commissioners begin a review of the candidates. Interviews are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 10.
Mr. Strauss denied that there was any effort to hide the names. "We believe there is no requirement to release them yet. We just haven't done it, but we will before the interviews take place," he said.
The Times confirmed that one of the three finalists and the only Islander is Russell Smith of Aquinnah, a civil engineer and long-time legislative liaison for state Rep. Eric Turkington. Mr. Smith, who often appears at meetings on behalf of Mr. Turkington, is familiar with local officials and the inner workings of Vineyard politics.
Reached yesterday morning, Mr. Smith said that he was certainly pleased to be considered but would not comment on his interest in the position until the commissioners formally announced the names of the finalists.
Job to do
This week Mr. Strauss said the screening committee reported to the county commissioners that they did not think any of the candidates met the qualifications. "They turned it back to us, and we said we would deal with it," said Mr. Strauss. "We the commission looked at the applications and we selected five that we felt were more than qualified and dealt with them."
Asked how the commissioners could arrive at such a different conclusion from their committee, Mr. Strauss said, "It is truly a mystery."
Mr. Coogan said the commissioners provided specific criteria to use, and the committee decided after looking at the submissions that none of the candidates, who were not identified, measured up or fit the specific requirements. "We felt as a screening committee it was our job to take what they had given us and be careful with our choices," said Mr. Coogan.
Art Smadbeck, Edgartown selectman and a member of the screening committee, said the committee was selected to act on behalf of the county commissioners. He said Mr. Strauss asked the selection committee to be "flexible" when it became clear the process had stalled.
He said the committee told the commissioners that the commissioners, not their committee, had the option to be flexible.
"How can we get our marching orders from the group that appointed us, and then because one member tells us that we can be flexible, deviate from that?" Mr. Smadbeck asked. "So, I think it took the right course."
Mr. Smadbeck said the committee was top notch and did exactly what it was supposed to do.
In July, the county commissioners began advertising for a new county manager. The qualifications included familiarity with and experience in Massachusetts government, ability to interface positively with diverse local governments, a bachelor's degree and five to seven years senior management experience, preferably within government, as well as strong financial management, personnel management and strategic planning experience.
In addition to the advertised qualities and qualifications, Mr. Strauss said that the next county manager, whoever he or she might be, needs to be someone who can demonstrate an ability to work with Island town officials.
Although the county charter commission may recommend a new county structure, Mr. Strauss said any revamping of county government is at least two years away. He said a manager is needed to run the county. He said all of the candidates have been made aware of possible future changes.
"This may be a short-term interim position, because it may not exist in two to three years," he said.
The county charter adopted in 1994 and now under review provides for the county manager form of government. The charter delegates to the seven-member board of unpaid commissioners general legislative powers while giving the county manager full control over the county administration.
In many ways the county manager's title exceeds his actual authority over the departments and functions that fall within the county framework.
The county manager exercises direct supervisory control over his administrative assistant, the county rodent control officer, county beaches, health access, the county engineer, the veterans' agent, and a budget of less than $1 million.
In August, the commissioners named Noreen Flanders, Dukes County treasurer, to be acting county manager.
The seven county commissioners are chairman Paul Strauss of Oak Bluffs, vice chairman Leslie Leland of West Tisbury, John Alley of West Tisbury, Roger Wey of Oak Bluffs, Lenny Jason Jr. of Chilmark, Tristan Israel of Tisbury, and Carlene Gatting of Edgartown.