GROTON — Pending a possible change in Groton’s form of government, the Board of Selectmen conducted interviews with three candidates last Monday night for the position of interim administrative officer.
Whoever is finally chosen for the position will be expected to serve until a decision is made as to the form of town government; whether it remains as it has been with an administrative officer in charge or changed to that of a town manager.
Selectmen were first prompted to consider changes in the form of town government by the departure of Jean Kitchen, the town’s long-time administrative officer.
Over the summer, the board embarked on exploratory sessions with various town managers and other public officials invited from neighboring communities to discuss the pros and cons of a more centralized governmental system for Groton.
Pending a decision on when and if to proceed with a different form of government, selectmen decided to fill Kitchen’s position with a temporary replacement and formed a Search Committee to screen candidates.
The three finalists interviewed Monday night, David Owen, Jeffrey Ritter, and Raymond Houle, were pre-screened by the Search Committee and recommended to the board earlier in the month.
Selectmen began their interviews Monday with Owen who is currently serving as interim administrator for the town of Ware that he said is also considering a change in government.
Owen told selectmen that he found Groton a “well organized community” with “a lot of community involvement.”
“I’m very pleased to know that this board is planning and meeting its objectives for the town,” he remarked when asked about his impression of Groton. “That, to me, is like having a road map … to guide my efforts.”
Owen said that if he is chosen as interim administrative officer, his first action will be to hold meetings with department heads and begin to get to know everyone in town government.
When asked by board member Mihran Keoseian how he would “fine-tune” local government, Owen said that with heads of departments reporting directly to the town administrator, the lines of communication would be opened.
“That way, you keep the town manager accountable,” Owen explained. “While the town manager keeps (other) appointed officials accountable.”
Owen, who has served in an administrative capacity for such towns as Needham, Milford, Maynard and Burlington, said he would bring a strong planning background to the job, experience in collective bargaining, as well as such skills as interdepartmental coordination and information sharing.
Finally, Owen compared the job as administrator to that of an orchestra leader who must keep different parts of the whole working in rhythm.
Jeffrey Ritter told selectmen that 30 years ago, Wayland, the town that he has most recently worked for, was where Groton is today with new growth about to take off.
As a result, Ritter saw that although the form of Groton’s government might need “evolving,” it would also present “tremendous opportunities to bring some consolidation” to its administration.
“There is a very clear parallel between what was in Wayland and what is in Groton,” Ritter concluded.
If hired, Ritter said that the first thing he would do is meet with the town’s department heads and, acting as a “conduit,” begin to build a “relationship with them and provide them with the tools to do their jobs.”
Following his meetings with the department heads, Ritter said his intention was to get together with selectmen to discuss goals and objectives and to “figure out priorities” and “to try and build an understanding” with them.
Ritter said he sees himself as a “facilitator” who would help selectmen bring changes to town government as well as a person who could “successfully implement a vision” for the future.
Ritter said that as an administrator, he is committed to transparency, building staff relationships, promoting teamwork, and being an advocate for the community.
Raymond Houle, the final candidate interviewed by selectmen Monday night, said that he found Groton an appealing community in its size and diversity of geography.
“Each community has a local culture,” said Houle of his approach to familiarizing himself with town government including simply walking around and visiting different departments. “My style is very participatory.”
Houle, who prided himself on his rapport with the community, told selectmen of a cable TV show he did in another town he worked in entitled “You Can Call Me Ray.” He led local viewers on tours of different aspects of town government from visiting the police station to explaining public policy.
“Groton,” observed Houle, “was a very well rounded, very well serviced community. What it tells me is that it is a community that is trying to move ahead and that’s very exciting to me.”
Houle said that if hired, his role would be that of coordinator and to see that the policies of the selectmen are carried out. Communication, he said, is the most important thing needed between residents and town government.
“You have to put your heart and soul into this job to do it right,” Houle concluded.
With the three interviews ended, selectmen were expected to meet again the following Wednesday to talk about the three candidates and decide which among them to hire as the town’s interim administrative officer.