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PEPPERELL — Candidates are lining up to be screened by the seven-member Town Administrator Search Committee.

Its chairman, Selectman Patrick McNabb, has asked his colleagues to weigh in on three items that will be new to the adminstrator’s responsibilities.

A financial oversight component is proposed, as is the requirement the candidate be skilled in grant writing.

A third duty, that of assuming supervision of the town’s internal technology department headed by Den Connors, is proposed. At present, Connors’ department is supervised by town accountant Theresa Walsh, who has announced her retirement.

Selectmen, at their June 1 meeting, seemed to be in general agreement with the additional duties; however they will take a formal vote at their June 8 meeting. McNabb said his search committee must begin screening candidates soon.

He said the response to the advertised administrator’s job description “is about what we expected,” but because the committee is working in secret due to the nature of some applicant’s current positions he could not reveal the actual number. Unofficial sources put the number of applicants at more than 20.

The 11-year veteran Administrator Robert Hanson announced his decision to retire June 30 some months ago. It followed a behind-the-scenes pot-boiler of discontent over the previous board’s approval of a one-year extension given to him a year earlier than is stated in his contract.

Selectmen’s June 1 meeting was convened a half hour earlier than the normal 7 p.m. starting time for an executive session with Hanson. Despite prodding by audience member Eric Smith, they would not reveal what was discussed. Hanson said business had not been concluded in the closed door meeting.

Search Committee members include McNabb, former selectman Judy Dalton (vice chairman), Collector Treasurer Michael Hartnett (treasurer), Richard Potts (clerk), Council on Aging Director Sharon Mercurio, Highway Supervisor and Deputy Fire Chief Peter Shattuck, and Recreation Commissioner P. Derek Ten Broeck.

The committee has a $1,000 budget to pay for the selection process. Members have emphasized that confidentiality is the primary focus, since applications are likely to come from candidates who are currently employed.

Applicants are responding via a post office box to which McNabb and Dalton have access. Selectmen will make the ultimate hiring decision.

Early on, Hanson had reacted strongly against having the Search Committee revise the administrator’s job description.

“By statute,” he said “the town administrator is a creature developed specifically by the Board of Selectmen and no one else. Would you tell me what qualifications the committee has?”

“They are citizens who can read documentation. They don’t make the decision,” McNabb answered.

There had been some discussion early on about having the new administrator become a “bylaw” (non-contracted) employee.

Selectmen agreed with Hanson when he said, “I guarantee you’ll get no response from any viable candidate (if that were the case),” Hanson said. “You’re asking someone to take on a politically charged position (from which they could be ousted on a political basis).”

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