The Oak Bluffs select board selected town accountant Deborah Potter to lead Oak Bluffs as the next town administrator.
Potter was reappointed to a three-year term as town accountant in February. She has served as town accountant for Oak Bluffs since June 2016, when she was appointed as acting accountant. She was appointed to a three-year term in December 2017.
The search for a new town administrator came after former longtime town administrator Robert Whritenour was hired as the Yarmouth town administrator earlier this year.
Before her time in Oak Bluffs, Potter served a short term as airport manager at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. She is a former air traffic controller, and served for eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps. “I’m here to offer one pathway for success to the town, both short- and long-term,” Potter said during her interview.
Potter said she was initially reluctant to apply for the position, believing she best served the town in the accounting department. After the town expanded its search off-Island, Potter said, she began to think about what she could offer to the town as its administrator.
Among her qualifications, Potter said she was responsible for the town’s first clean audit in more than 20 years, worked directly with former town administrators, has experience in human resources and collective bargaining, and is familiar with Oak Bluffs, particularly its financials.
Potter is a longtime resident of Oak Bluffs. Both her daughters attended the Oak Bluffs School and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
Board member Ryan Ruley said he wanted to see more accountability for department heads, such as doing assessments of employees to set them up for success, to which Potter agreed.
Board chair Brian Packish said the board has been weak on setting policy. “It’s going to be one of the keys of success for the town consistently,” Packish said.
Board members Gail Barmakian and Jason Balboni said in the past, relaying information was difficult. “Communication has been an issue,” Balboni said. “The select board, we, are approached out on the street, we’re the faces. It’s very embarrassing when someone from the public tells us something we should already know, but have no idea about it.”
Potter added that her vision for the town includes some restructuring of responsibilities, but was vague about the details. “I think it will work if you’re viable. It will be a good short-term solution until we get to our longer-term, more permanent one. It will also save you money,” she said.
In her closing remarks, Potter said she was focused on not only creating a pathway of success for the town administrator position, but also for all town departments to keep and retain staff. “The town administrator is supposed to be there as a buffer between the select board and everything else, so that you have the ability to do your job and make the decisions that the people have elected you to do, and it’s the town administrator’s job to get it done,” Potter said.
The board made the decision Tuesday afternoon after interviewing a slate of four finalists this week that included Potter, acting town administrator Wendy Brough, Sherborn town administrator David Williams, and Oxford town administrator and former state Rep. Jennifer Callahan.
During deliberation, the board narrowed their focus to Potter and Callahan before deciding on Potter. They expressed gratitude for each candidate who applied — particularly Brough.
“That role she has done, and I think she has done a very good job with what she has for tools,” Balboni said. “I hope she keeps continuing to work for it, because I could potentially see her as our next town administrator, depending on how long this one sticks.”
During her interview, Brough, who has worked for the town for 17 years, said she has “a great fondness [for Oak Bluffs], and enjoys the challenge and action of this town. I’ve worked through the stages: from grants through middle management, to now this temporary acting leadership, and for me it’s a natural progression.”
Barmakian said Potter was “strong with the budget,” and that she would meld well into the position. Board member Emma Green-Beach called Potter “sharp.”
Ruley said the town was lucky to have the slate of candidates they received, but Potter was his top choice. “Deb hits those bullets. I think she’s going to be able to coordinate personnel, I think she’s got a high level of accountability, I think there’s a big, high ceiling of professionalism,” Ruley said. “I think she’s going to put us in a position to succeed.”
“Well, she is a Marine,” Balboni added.
Intern Eunki Seonwoo contributed to this story.