TOWNSEND – With the town administrator’s chair still empty after the recent departure of James Kreidler, reportedly by mutual agreement, the Board of Selectmen is performing the administrative functions assigned to that position. Basically, that means conducting town business, day to day, in addition to their duties as elected town officials.
Working through a packed agenda Tuesday night, selectmen discussed hiring an interim administrator and steps they should take to that end.
In the meantime, the board continues to meet in regular session weekly — on Tuesday evenings — and three times a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — in noontime, “working sessions” that are expected to continue until an interim administrator is hired.
Chairwoman Veronica Kell said she had two lists of names in hand that the board could sift through at its next noon session. One came out of a recent meeting with the Department of Revenue, she said.
The meeting, with the town’s financial team, also addressed another key vacancy: town accountant.
Town Clerk Kathy Spofford said she was at that meeting, too and that the DOR wants the positions filled as soon as possible, ideally within a week.
Kell said she’s aware of that, but that didn’t mean they could speed up the process too much and still get it right.
“We need to determine a hiring process” she said, but since time is key, it’s prudent to set aside the notion of appointing a search committee, at least in terms of filling the temporary slot. Instead, they can post “as a board” and reach out to query people on the list.
The goal, for now, Kell said, is to narrow the list of likely candidates — for example, discount those who live too far from Townsend to make the commute “realistic,” among other factors to be considered — then a review committee can be established to come up with finalists for the selectmen to choose from.
“We should get it down to three or five,” Selectman Joe Shank said. Above all, the process should be “transparent” he said, with input from town department heads and other boards.
Selectman Chaz Sexton-Diranian said he’d reached out to four other communities “that were in our situation” to get a handle on the hiring process for filling an “interim” versus a permanent position. They sent out job descriptions, asking for “letters of interest, he said. “I like Joe’s idea too…,” he added. “The board can deliberate from there.”
In other business, Kell acknowledged receipt of a letter from Conservation Commission Chair Karen Hill, in effect an official announcement that the commission has suspended operations, citing lack of an agent or support staff.
“Until there is staff in the Conservation office, no one will be performing any conservation work,” Hill wrote.
As one of about 30 people — besides the board — at the Zoom-enabled meeting, Hill insisted that the letter be read aloud, in full, rather than simply summarized. Kell complied.
Noting that the Conservation Commission “has been without staff for four months” and that the commissioners — all volunteers — can’t effectively conduct business without an agent or support staff, the letter goes on to say, in part, that it’s the responsibility of the Board of Selectmen, which appoints them, to rectify the situation.
“The selectmen themselves are hiring an interim town administrator to assist them… I expect you to do the same for the Conservation Commission,” Hill wrote.
Kell, for her part, pointed out that other volunteer boards in town also work without pay. As for staffing, she said an administrator was hired to help the Conservation Commission but quit in May after only a month on the job. The agent’s position is posted, as are volunteer openings for two vacant seats.
The Town Charter calls for a seven-member Conservation Commission. There are currently five members: Hill, Vice Chairman John Hussey, James Deroian, James LeCuyer, Anne LeCuyer and Jennifer Eaton. The newest member, Dalton Wagman, resigned in April. Conservation Agent Dave Henkels left in February.
Shank said it was disturbing to “see a letter like this… we can’t put the town on hold.”
Directing a query directly to Hill, he asked: “Why do you feel you can threaten (us) like this?”
“This is a community,” he said, and this work must be done. “If you don’t want to do it, then resign.”
“I believe we’ll schedule a hearing,” to resolve the matter, Kell said, citing a “water issue” coming up soon that the Conservation Commission would need to be part of.
As others weighed in and the conversation got testy, Kell said it was time for the board to take up the next item on the agenda. “We are going to move on,” she said.
Commissioner James LeCuyer got in a parting jab. “You are rude,” he said to Kell. She didn’t respond.