Oak Bluffs selectmen weed out interim administrator candidates

A contract accountant and an interim town administrator are two important seats that remain empty at town hall. — File photo by Mae Deary

After interviewing six candidates, Oak Bluffs selectmen Wednesday narrowed their list of potential interim town administrator candidates to two. On the short list are Donald Andrew, an Oak Bluffs homeowner who once worked in the town’s finance department, and Robert Whritenour, who was Falmouth town manager from 2001 to 2010.

Selectmen will check references and expect to make a decision on Tuesday, August 9.

“We’re looking for somebody to hit the ground running,” chairman Kathy Burton said during an interview session Monday. “We have a preference for some knowledge about Oak Bluffs. We have a preference for municipal experience in Massachusetts, a preference for someone who is a town manager or has been a town manager or town administrator with more recent experience. We’re looking for someone with strong financial experience, strong personnel management and project management.”

Entering the height of the summer season and facing a litany of financial and administrative issues without a town administrator, Oak Bluffs selectmen and town hall staffers this week filled in.

Former town administrator Michael Dutton’s employment with the town ended July 31 following his negotiated resignation in the wake of several financial and procedural problems.

Ms. Burton said office administrator Alice Butler is monitoring communications, while selectmen are dealing with issues normally handled by the town administrator, as they arise.

She said the board set July 31 as Mr. Dutton’s departure date in part because he requested that date, and in part because they wanted to wrap up negotiations with Mr. Dutton as soon as possible.

“We have worked very hard to get an interim town administrator in a very rapid fashion, and we’re really only going to be ten days (without one), hopefully.” Ms. Burton said.

Other candidates interviewed over the past two weeks were: Stanley Arend, who has held a number of municipal positions in California, and whose family has Island ties; Jeff Burgoyne, most recently town coordinator in Aquinnah; John Sanguinet, most recently assistant town administrator in Wareham and Billerica; and Richard Kwiatkowski, currently town administrator for the town of Orange.

Each candidate was asked a series of questions by selectmen. The questions reflect the issues an interim administrator will face. Oak Bluffs is planning budget cuts that may involve layoffs, dealing with the aftermath of a reprimand from the state attorney general’s office, and low morale among town employees.

The questions included: Are you an out-front or behind-the-scenes administrator? What is your knowledge of procurement law? Can you describe for us a very difficult performance issue you’ve had to deal with? Have you ever had to fire someone?

Public process

Selectmen conduct the interviews in open session, a somewhat unusual process for this stage of a search. The law requires the meeting be open to the public if the entire board of selectmen conducts the interviews. Many local boards appoint a screening committee to narrow the field of candidates who apply for the position. The law allows a screening committee to conduct interviews in closed session, one of the few exceptions to open meeting law. In the opinion of the attorney general, the town’s interest in getting many good candidates to apply, outweighs the public’s right to hear and see the early part of the interview process.

If the chairman declares the candidates need confidentiality, perhaps because they don’t want their current employer to know they are interviewing for another job, the interviews before a screening committee can be held in executive session. Once the field of candidates is narrowed to a final group, all interviews must be in public session.

Selectman Walter Vail suggested two candidates, Mr. Arend and Mr. Andrew, before the position was advertised in Island and mainland newspapers.

Ms. Burton said that should not leave the impression that those two candidates have an inside track.

“I would hope there wouldn’t be that perception,” Ms. Burton said in a phone interview. “That’s certainly not the way I’m going to look at it. I will remain completely open-minded until the last person is interviewed.”