HARVARD -- Former selectman Marie Sobalvarro, who recently resigned before her elected term was up, came back Tuesday night as a job applicant, one of two top picks selectmen interviewed for the newly created Human Resources/Assistant Town Administrator position.
After interviewing her and the other finalist, Jennifer Cederberg, in turn, selectmen asked Town Administrator Tim Bragan which one he preferred.
Stating at the outset that they aimed to make the choice that night, the board would ultimately act on Bragan's recommendation to appoint Sobalvarro, voting unanimously to offer the newly created position to her rather than the other hopeful, Cederberg.
But first, Selectman Ron Ricci asked Bragan to describe the screening/selection process to show it was fair.
A working group he was part of that also included School Superintendent Linda Dwight, Finance Director Lorraine Leonard and BOS Chair Stu Sklar sifted through 21 applications for the duly posted and advertised position, Bragan told the board, sketching the scenario.
The field was eventually narrowed to five, then three and finally two candidates, Bragan said.
In addition, four top Town Hall employees with whom the new hire will work - Bragan, Leonard, the selectmen's executive assistant and the treasurer/tax collector - reviewed all the applications and listed top picks, he said, sketching a deliberative process with consistent criteria.
"We didn't all agree," he said.
After further winnowing, three applicants were interviewed by Bragan, Leonard and Dwight, who narrowed the top choices to "these two," Bragan said. "A lot of questions were asked along the way."
Asked to name his choice, Bragan said he had already done so when Dwight asked earlier and his answer was the same: Marie Sobalvarro. He came to that conclusion after thinking "long and hard" and weighing plus and minus issues versus each of the two finalists, he said.
For example, this being a brand new position with a steep "learning curve," Sobalvarro's local savvy will be an added asset, along with her qualifications, financial background and experience, Bragan said, adding that in his view, she was the most likely to commit, long term.
The human resources part of the position calls for municipal insurance knowledge and Sobalvarro has dealt with such issues in town before, Bragan said, noting that she worked with him and Leonard to explore employee health plan options and recommend plan design changes.
In short, Sobalvarro - who has seen the big picture up close and from a local angle and is very familiar with the terrain, from insurance issues to economic development to Devens - can hit the ground running if she gets the job. "We need that," Bragan concluded.
The only "drawback" would be that people might think the choice was "political," Bragan said, but that's not the case. "She made the cut or she wouldn't have made it this far," he said of Sobalvarro. "She's before you tonight and I recommend appointing her."
Sobalvarro is a 10-year town resident. Besides having been a selectman, she previously served on the Finance Committee for several years and was coordinator of the Volunteer Fair.
Cederberg, of Charlton, also had solid financial and management experience and aimed to stick around, long term. "This position is just what I'm looking for," she told the board.
Past positions included operations director in Millis, MA, which she left in part due to long hours at work and after-hours board meetings that ran late, making it tough to juggle family responsibilities and job demands, Cederberg said, adding that she also had "health issues" at the time that have since been resolved. She currently works for Reliant Medical Group in Worcester.
The selectmen and Bragan agreed both candidates were "highly qualified" and either one would have been a good choice.
"There were no bad choices tonight," Ricci said.