HARWICH — Selectmen Monday agreed to create a town administrator search committee by early January, but the board will continue to weigh whether to retain a search consultant to assist in the process.
Town Administrator Christopher Clark went on an extended leave of absence after working out an agreement with selectmen which includes Clark not seeking a new contract with the town. His leave of absence expires on June 30.
It's early in the game and the board has time to consider its approach, said Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine. With assistant town administrator Joseph Powers in place as the acting town administrator and the strength of town department heads, there should be no rush.
“We want to move not in panic but in caution going forward,” Ballantine told the board. He said he’d like to have a search committee appointed by early January, adding the board has not had a discussion on whether a consultant should be hired.
Ballantine stressed the need for an open and fair hiring process. He suggested two members of the board and a small group of people at large be appointed to the search committee.
“I’ve been on a bunch of search committees, and the most recent was the county administrator,” Selectman Donald Howell said.
Howell said he has given a lot of thought to making sure everyone on the board gets someone they are comfortable with appointed. He suggested each member of the board choose a member and that there be a seven-member committee. Howell said the selectmen will make the final decision on the town administrator so the board might want to add two members at large, instead of having two members of the selectmen on the search committee.
Selectman Michael MacAskill said he wasn’t around for the past two town administrator searches so he would like to better understand the process that was followed and the search consultants used. MacAskill also said he would like to see the job description used in the last search.
Selectman Stephen Ford recommended a search consultant firm associated with the University of Massachusetts. That was one of three considered in the last search, Ballantine said, but another firm was chosen.
MacAskill also recommended a study be done on town administrators compensation in other towns. He referred to a story in The Chronicle in which Clark was quoted as saying his $165,000 salary was “demoralizing.” There are different types of town administrators and “we specifically have a weak town administrator,” MacAskill said.
Ford said the board can do that research and it should not be put on Power’s plate. Powers said there was a meeting coming up with the Massachusetts Municipal Associations administrators which has done studies on salaries and benefits. He said he would bring the matter up with them.
With the annual town meeting only 150 days away and the focus turning to the creation of an annual budget and town meeting warrant articles, Selectman Ed McManus raised the issue of the need for more administrative help in the office “so nothing slips through and we get to town meeting in good stead.”
Ballantine said he would craft a document to further define issues such as seeking a common agreement on what the board expects from a town administrator and what is considered a reasonable salary and benefits. It will also include what should be done in the interim with administration and the membership and timing of a search committee.