AYER — Following an hour’s worth of interviews between two lettered candidates, it took the Ayer Board of Selectmen less than five minutes to deliberate and unanimously vote to select Jeff Ritter of Medway as an interim town administrator, as the search for a replacement for outgoing 4-year administrator Shaun Suhoski continues.
On the job through next Friday, April 9, Suhoski is to exit his corner office to assume the top administrative function for the town of Sturbridge the following Monday.
Selectmen stated their desire to go with Ritter, who has previously served as an interim administrator in neighboring Groton (population 10,607) from 2006 to 2008 while that town retooled to a town manager form of government. From that role, Ritter took on a similar interim role in Bridgewater (population 27,000) from 2008 to earlier this year as that town also transitioned to a strong town manager leader. Ritter has also served as an 11-year chief executive officer for the town of Wayland, a 4-year town administrator for Blackstone, a 2-year administrative assistant in Hatfield and a 3-year economic development officer for the city of Chicopee.
Ritter is close to completing his required course load to attain a master’s degree in public administration from Framingham State College.
Ritter edged out Clayton Carlisle of Hudson, a 40-year local government professional with 25 years of experience in a variety of Massachusetts communities. Carlisle’s multipage resume boasted of experience as a land-use and management consultant in Carlisle, management and budget director in Everett, town manager for Southbridge, assistant city manager for Watertown, town administrator in Marshfield, town administrator in Hudson, and planning director in Gloucester.
Carlisle also played a role on Devens during the pre-MassDevelopment Land Bank days from 1995 to 1998 in aiding in the establishment of the former Army post’s alternative-taxation system for payments in lieu of taxes.
Ritter pledged he’d “hit the ground running,” saying he’s a “quick study” on issues and people. Ritter promised he’d be an asset to the board without need for “a lot of start-up time.”
Ayer Town Hall is loosing key leaders in April. The treasurer and dual town clerk/tax collector are both retiring and will be replaced via the April 26 town elections. Also leaving at the end of his most recent term in April is Selectmen Chairman Cornelius “Connie” Sullivan. Having been aboard as interim as two towns changed their form of government, Ritter said his administrative experience in the face of such flux is something he’s been “specializing in lately.”
“In New England, any change in an organization, particularly government, is disruptive,” Ritter acknowledged. As to easing the newly elected officials into Town Hall, Ritter suggested an orientation meeting be held for all the new and established employees to meet one another and get up to speed more quickly “as soon after the municipal election as possible.”
He described his management style as “open, transparent” and said a key skill is being a “good communicator.”
“I’m not a micro-manager,” Ritter said. “My door is always open for the board, department heads and the public.”
Sullivan asked Ritter if he’d be ready to serve above-and-beyond a “9-to-5” workday, taking into account the town is presently under a state of emergency due to the heavy rains, rising Spectacle Pond water levels and the threat they both pose to the town’s water supply.
“Absolutely, it’s not a ‘9-to-5’ and ‘I’m out of here,” said Ritter. “If you require more, I’m certainly available for it. Floods at Town Hall at 3 o’clock in the morning? I’m there.”
While his salary has yet to be negotiated, Ritter was last making $93,500 a year in Bridgewater as a town employee, though on an interim basis. Carlisle floated a heftier price tag of $110,000, though he signaled that he’d be open to negotiation on compensation.
Ritter would not commit, however, if he’d be seeking the final Ayer town administrator post itself.