HARWICH — Selectmen spent four hours Monday night interviewing the four finalists for the town administrator position and, based on what they heard, came to the conclusion the town’s search committee did a good job filtering the 46 applications.
Selectmen agreed to register their assessment on an evaluation from Board of Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine will put together this week and weigh the candidates on Monday night.
Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers was the first finalist to make a presentation. He came to the assistant town administrator position in 2019 after serving as assistant town administrator and town clerk in Wellfleet.
He has 30 years of experience in various aspects of elective and appointed government, including serving as an elected representative town meeting member in Braintree while he was still in college. Powers has served as a selectman, chairman of a school committee, moderator, town clerk, assistant town administrator and interim town administrator. He has served in leadership roles in both the public and private sector, he added.
When asked about his municipal finance experience, Powers referred to his current task of shaping the town budget, pointing out the town was facing a $1.8 million deficit when he came on as interim administrator. He said he has worked with Finance Director Carol Coppola to address the issue, giving him a better understanding of the budget process.
Powers, a local resident, said the COVID-19 pandemic became a primary issue in the community, and he used his ability to communicate, working with department heads and reaching out to the community, to deal with the situation. The Community Leadership Forum he set up to work with stakeholders during the pandemic shows his ability to interact with the community, he said.
“I’m a student of government,” Powers said when asked about serving as a town administrator, who, he said, administers policy set by the board of selectmen according to the town charter.
Cathy Ann Viveiros
Cathy Ann Viveiros served as city administrator in Fall River for five years, reporting to the mayor. She also served as a city councilor for eight years and emphasized the importance of blending both elected and appointed roles in government as a means of better understanding the needs of the citizenry.
She also emphasized her service in the private sector. While city administrator, Viveiros said she brought policies and perspectives from the private sector to municipal government. When asked to provide an example, she spoke about establishing quarterly budget reports so officials better understand spending levels. Viveiros also said her financial team brought zero-based budgeting and implemented financial forecasting in the city of 90,000 residents.
She said in 2016 Fall River was facing a $20 million budget gap and forecasting helped get that gap under control over the long term. After the loss of a federal grant that had been funding 79 firefighters, she worked with her financial team to bring the EMS and firefighter unions together, offering senior members incentives to retire. They were able to reduce the number of layoffs from 79 to 23 and firefighters are now required to have basic life-saving skills.
Viveiros has had little experience in open town meeting government, noting a role she played as a member of an industrial development committee in Plymouth which reported to town meeting. She also served on a wastewater committee when living in Westport. But as town administrator she said she would emphasize the need to provide selectmen with all the pros and cons and necessary documentation for decision-making.
Viveiros said she will reach out to stakeholders, the business community and residents to understand their visions and goals for the community. She also stressed the importance of talking with department heads to better understand community needs.
Kenneth Gray served for six years as the mayor of the city of Amesbury, but he also has lengthy experience as a corporate executive as founder and president of Northwave Technology, Inc. He is a trained engineer who worked with semiconductors.
Gray said in the six years he served as a strong mayor he set community policies and served as chairman of the school committee, so was able to improve the school budget, now 53 percent of the city’s annual budget. He compared the strong mayor to serving as both the selectmen and town administrator.
As an industrial engineer he is used to dealing with complex situations, he said, and when elected he had to work closely with the city council. His ability to do so was reflected in many unanimous votes, he said.
As a town administrator it is important to build trust, Gray said, and he would reach out to selectmen, boards and committees, residents and stakeholders of the community to find out what the issues are and build a level of comfort in the community. Gray said he did that in Amesbury, setting goals and putting in place provisions to measure them.
Gray instituted strict budget controls and worked with department heads to define what they needed and negotiated to a number he had already targeted. When Gray took office, he said, Amesbury had the fourth highest tax rate in Massachusetts and it was difficult for people to sell homes. He looked at the budget, froze discretionary spending and put in provisions to limit department head spending.
Gray said it was his position the city should not spend to the Proposition 2½ limit each year. The result, he said, was a tax rate that moved from fourth highest in the commonwealth to 106th, from $21 when he started to $17 when he left office.
He said he worked well with state officials and was successful in bringing a lot of state grants to Amesbury. Gray said he does not often apply for municipal administrative positions, but he has been to the Wequassett Resort for the Massachusetts Mayors annual meeting and absolutely loves it here.
Thomas M. Guerino
Thomas M. Guerino served as town administrator in Bourne for more than 14 years and also served as the executive director of the Massachusetts Rural Development Council for nearly 10 years. He told selectmen he has been a long-term public sector advocate and public employee and admitted his tenure in Bourne was tumultuous at times.
“Bourne was a tough town to do work in,” Guerino said. “It was the last town (on the Cape) to move from full-time selectmen.”
Addressing issues raised relating to communication with selectmen, Guerino said it needs to be done on an equal basis for all five members and everyone should get information at the same time. His process of informing selectmen of issues is to provide the most information he can get, and if it requires bringing in a department head with more knowledge, he will do so.
Guerino observed that Harwich has a moderately strong town administrator and it is clear selectmen set policy and have a strong voice on how they want the town run, but have no active role in the day-to-day activities.
“The public elects the select board,” he said. “My job is to steward the municipal ship to the benefit of the rest of the community. My door is open for citizens of the community. We are here because of those citizens. That’s the whole reason we’re doing this. That’s why we’re here.”
He said he knows the environment he’d be working in, referring to sewer issues and bidding complications. Guerino said he’s been through all of this before and can help Harwich through it.
Guerino was asked if he’d be moving to Harwich if he gets the job. He responded he would not be bringing his family here because of medical reasons, but he would be renting here and he would always be here in times of storms and other severe conditions.
“My dedication to this community will never have to be questioned,” he said.