AYER — Ayer Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski was the unanimous pick by the Sturbridge Board of Selectmen on Monday to become Sturbridge’s town administrator. Pending agreement with Sturbridge on a personal services contract, Suhoski said Tuesday that he indeed intends to accept the post.
Suhoski indicated to the Sturbridge selectmen that if offered the post, he could start work there in as soon as 45 days. Suhoski said that he is keeping his present employer, the Ayer Board of Selectmen, closely apprised of developments as they unfold.
On the 5-0 vote, the Suhoski selection potentially puts to bed a protracted process to find a successor for former Town Administrator James Malloy, who left in June to become the town manager for Westborough. This was the third attempt to form a consensus via a selection process headed by two different search committees.
Sturbridge Board of Selectmen Chairman Mary Blanchard said Tuesday of the process that it was “too protracted, unnecessarily so.”
She said Suhoski interviewed well. “It was just listening to him; he’s very articulate. He communicated very well and has a broad range of experience. He hasn’t been town administrator for too long, but with his development grant-writing experience, (building) balanced budgets and (being) fiscally conservative, that’s a plus. It’s the whole package.”
“For any question, he had a real good answer for it,” said Blanchard, adding Suhoski’s presentation was “thoughtful and in depth — versatile in all aspects.”
“I don’t think Shaun will have a difficult time stepping in,” Blanchard said, stating the overlap time between Suhoski and interim Sturbridge Town Administrator Michael Racicot will likely be just a few days. “Shaun is very familiar with budget process, the law and how the towns work. The towns are comparable in dollar size” at about $22 million each.
Ayer is on the eve of deciding whether to regionalize its schools with Shirley. Sturbridge grades 7 through 12 are already regionalized.
Ayer Selectman Gary Luca, in the midst of his second term, has worked with Suhoski during his tenure on the board. Suhoski was elevated to the town administrator post in 2006, after his prior seven-year stretch in Ayer’s Planning and Development Department, serving as the town’s economic development director.
“I wish him luck. I hope he does well if that’s what he wants,” said Luca on Tuesday. “I’m sure he’ll be fine down there. He’s a dedicated employee.”
“I’m sorry that he’s leaving but people don’t stay in places for very long,” said Luca.
Of Ayer’s potential need to launch a replacement search should Suhoski accept, Luca said, “We’ll just move on from there and hope to get a town administrator that can handle everything that’s thrown at him efficiently and effectively.”
“He’ll be fine at it. Sometimes when you’re somewhere for a long time, a change of pace is fine. And if he decides to stay, that’s fine with me,” said Luca. “I’ve enjoyed a good working relationship with him.”
Suhoski, 44, a Fitchburg State College graduate, has a law degree from New England School of Law and teaches college courses at Mount Wachusett Community College. He previously worked as a newspaper correspondent for several regional newspapers. Suhoski is also involved in a music group that plays throughout the area. Special provisos were included in Suhoski’s employment contract with Ayer to permit his continued supplemental employment as both a professor and newspaper correspondent.
Suhoski was made a finalist in Sturbridge third attempt to find a new administrator. He first submitted an application last summer during the town’s original attempt to fill the vacancy. The names of the three finalists last summer were never released after four of the five search committee members resigned in protest of perceived pressure to select Charles Blanchard, Paxton’s town administrator and husband of Selectmen Chairman Mary Blanchard, for the post. However, word got out informally that Suhoski was on that short summertime list.
Suhoski’s name didn’t surface in December for the second attempt, though search committee Chairman James Ehrhard said Suhoski was in their top 10 semifinalist list. Suhoski made the final three this month, along with Mansfield Town Manager John D’Agostino, Laurel Montanta, and CEO William Sheridan.
Interim Sturbridge Administrator Racicot said Tuesday of the timeline that as “far as I am aware, Mr. Suhoski will be meeting with the Board of Selectmen at their next meeting on Monday, March 1, to discuss the position and negotiate a possible agreement. After that meeting we will know the timeline, salary, and any transition arrangements.”
While both towns are represented by the Boston law firm Kopelman and Paige, Blanchard said her fellow selectmen are to conduct negotiations on their own in executive session starting at 6:30 p.m.
The Ayer Board of Selectmen meet the next night, March 2, when perhaps Suhoski’s ultimate fate will be known.
“There are times when new challenges and opportunity for professional growth present themselves,” said Suhoski, “My candidacy in Sturbridge reflects that, but does not in any way diminish the great affection and respect I have for the people and town of Ayer.”
“I consider myself fortunate to have enjoyed 11 of the best years of my professional life with my colleagues and friends in Ayer,” said Suhoski.