SHIRLEY -- Time was tight when the Board of Selectmen at a meeting earlier this month interviewed two candidates to temporarily replace Town Administrator Patrice Garvin. With her departure date just days away, the board voted two to one to offer the interim job to Travis Miller.
Selectmen Enrico Cappucci and Debra Flagg favored Miller. Chairman Holly Haas did not, citing his lack of job-specific experience.
Miller worked for 25 years years as a municipal management consultant but he's never been a town administrator before.
Now starting his third week as interim administrator, Miller said things are going great so far, in large part thanks to a welcoming and helpful town hall staff. Every newcomer deserves a "smart, competent " team like this one to work with, he said. Noting that several of them are relatively new as well, due to substantial turnover in the last couple years, everyone, including himself, is "intent on doing the best possible job for the town," he said.
Asked what it's like to take over the corner office without on-the-job experience or historic knowledge of Shirley's modes, moods and methods to draw on, Miller acknowledged he's on a "learning curve."
But it doesn't daunt him.
Having worked in municipalities of all sizes, from a tiny, high-end island enclave of less than 100 residents in Florida to a sprawling community outside Los Angeles, he's learned that the size of a city or town doesn't necessarily determine how "day to day issues" are handled.
"I got to see a broad spectrum of service-delivery applications... problem-solving," Miller said. "There's no single right answer." A best bet solution for one community might be the worst idea in another, he said. Sometimes, ingenuity counts most.
In Shirley, for example, when Front Street sprouted an alarming array of potholes during a recent weekend cold snap, the challenge was how to fill the holes when the usual method -- cold patch -- wouldn't work. The DPW got creative with a temporary fix, Miller said, with the interim director calling in from his home in New Hampshire to help solve the problem. "They used reclaimed material that would freeze in place," he said, plugging the gaps until the next warm spell allowed cold patch.
Miller came on board in time to attend the annual Massachusetts Municipal Association meeting this year. In one of the seminars he went to, a panelist spoke of "unusual circumstances new town administrators have faced," he said. In one instance the new hire took over after the previous administrator had died, in the office. The staff was rattled and the newcomer had to deal with the fallout, among other things.
Miller's takeaway, in part, seemed to be that stories like that can put less traumatic newcomer scenarios and facing workplace challenges into perspective. Some of his, for example, besides getting up to speed in his new -- if temporary -- job, include getting to know Shirley (To date, he's visited all but a couple of town-owned buildings) and keying into the selectmen's expectations, vision and values.
Meantime, he'll tackle the tasks on his to-do list and handle day to day issues as they come up. "There's a learning curve for everybody," he said.
Miller, who is unmarried and lives in Andover, (a 33-mile commute, he said,) has three teenage sons, 13,16 and 18. They live with their mother not far away and spend time with him, Miller said. He's coached their sports teams over the years and still does, he said.
Previously, Miller indicated he would apply for the permanent position of town administrator. Asked if that is still his intent, he said yes, absolutely. Currently, a search is underway to fill the position while he holds the fort, assisted by a full-time administrative assistant.
The search is being conducted by a professional recruiting firm hired by the selectmen and a seven- member, board-appointed volunteer screening committee. According to Haase, the process could last several months, with three finalists forwarded for the board to interview.