In Split Vote, Council Hires Interim Administrator

Interim Town Administrator, Chief Financial Officer and acting Human Resources Director Susan Hickey will drop two of her three hats this week in order to concentrate on crafting a budget.

The town has contracted with Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI) to provide Town Administrator services until the position is filled, and has also hired a part-time Human Resources Director who will also function as Assistant Town Administrator (see related story on page 3). As of Feb. 1, Hickey will return to the job she was hired for as Chief Financial Officer.

In the Jan. 26 Town Council meeting, the Council discussed appointing MRI as Interim Town Administrator according to Section 8.4.b of the Town Charter, “to serve at will of the Town Council.”

Hickey clarified that the town is not “hiring” the interim administrator, but would be contracting with MRI to appoint someone, and noted the town pays MRI. The candidate chosen by MRI is Stephen Daly, she said.

Daly has served as Chief Administrative Officer for the Massachusetts towns of Needham, Bedford and North Reading and also for Salem and Bedford in New Hampshire.

He has also served 13 years with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC), the regional planning agency for the 101 municipalities in the Greater Boston area. He managed the agency’s program that provided financial management and program support to four of Massachusetts’ five Homeland Security regions and managed MAPC’s municipal consulting practice that focused on facilitating inter-local collaboration, assisting local governments in their endeavors to share and/or consolidate services across borders.

He holds Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Education from the University of Maine, and has done Master’s in Public Administration coursework at Suffolk University and a Mid-Career Senior Executive Program Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Though the Council had discussed the interim hiring matter in nonpublic session, Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores had questions about the proposal. “I don’t know the person coming on as Interim Town Administrator,” she said.

Katsakiores proposed that Michael Fowler, Director of Public Works, be appointed Interim Town Administrator. He has filled in before and knows the town and its issues, she said.

There was also a financial component, Katsakiores said, noting that MRI would charge $100 per hour for its staff member’s services. “That could be $36,000 in three months,” she said.

“I thought we were looking at saving money,” Katsakiores said. “Mike Fowler could handle the job with no problem.”

Contractual language

Councilor Richard Tripp questioned some of the language in the contract, including “This agreement is in force until the completion of the project.” “What’s the completion of the project?” he asked.

Chairman Tom Cardon said the expected date was May 1.

“So the project is hiring a permanent Town Administrator?” Tripp asked.

“No, the project is the interim,” Cardon responded.

“The language is a little vague,” Tripp observed.

He also questioned a “non-solicitation” clause in the contract. “What if we find the person offered to us as an interim administrator is the one we want to hire?” he asked.

Councilor Joshua Bourdon, who works in the staffing industry, said the clause was standard. “We would have to wait a year to hire that person, and pay a fee,” he said.

Pluses and minuses

Councilor David Fischer defended the idea of using MRI for the interim administrator. “We need someone experienced who can guide us through the budget process,” he said, “and make sure there’s a smooth transition to the new Administrator. This is done in many towns. This is the best we can do.”

Councilor Mark Osborne agreed.

Councilor Al Dimmock said, “Mike Fowler does not have the time to do this. And as far as the money, he would receive extra in his pay.”

Dimmock added, “We don’t want any department head running the town. There might be a tendency to show favoritism.”

Although Hickey did not show favoritism to her Finance Department, Dimmock added, “I don’t think she should have been put in that position.”

Bourdon said he saw “pluses and minuses” to the MRI arrangement. “Mike Fowler has done this before, and he is one of the most efficient people I know,” Bourdon said. “The difference between him and Ms. Hickey is he would be wearing one less hat.”

Bourdon said he personally didn’t think Fowler would favor his own department, and as far as knowing the town, “He could hit the ground running.”

“I like the work Mike has done for us in the past,” Cardon said. But he noted that the interim term would begin in February, one of Fowler’s busiest months.

Osborne reminded the Council and audience that Fowler had not solicited the interim position.

Katsakiores pressed for consideration of Fowler, noting, “Remember in the last budget session, how you ‘slashed’ everything? We have a chance here to save $30,000 to $40,000.”

The Council voted 5-2 to contract with MRI for an interim administrator, with Katsakiores and Bourdon the dissenting votes.

Hickey was appointed as Interim Town Administrator this fall after former Administrator Galen Stearns and the town ended their relationship.