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Town Administrator Search Committee Discusses Ideal Candidate

The committee interviewed current Town Administrator Robert Mercier and Selectmen Chair Walter Zenkin on desired candidate attributes.

The , tasked with helping to vet candidates to replace retiring Town Administrator Robert Mercier, met yesterday to discuss requirements for candidates and set a schedule to use moving forward. Mercier is set to retire on June 1, following the passing of the FY'13 budget.

The committee was formed by the Board of Selectmen last month to work with the Edwards J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management, a public entity based at UMass Boston . from various town positions and two additional members, along with one alternate member, were .

The members of the committee are:

  • Financial: Paul Sagarino, Burlington Town Accountant
  • Business/Town Meeting: David Icken, General Manager of
  • Schools: Dr. Eric Conti, Superintendent of Schools
  • Town Committee: Brad Bond, Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee
  • Town Operations: John Sanchez, Superintendent of Public Works
  • Mark Delaney: Resident
  • Wendy Zarella: Resident
  • Melissa Robinson: Resident - Alternate

The first thing the committee did was vote members to leadership positions within the committee. Brad Bond was named the chair, David Icken the vice chair and Burlington Human Resources Director Joanne Faust was named as scribe/secretary. 

The committee members then interviewed Mercier and Board of Selectmen Chair Walter Zenkin to get their views on necessary requirements for candidates and to make a general outline of an ideal replacement.

Zenkin said the most important assets for a new Town Administrator is knowledge, experience and strong communications skills. He said Burlington is currently a well-run, though complicated town, and the new administrator will need to hit the ground running.

"Burlington isn’t in the beginning stages, we have been there and done that and we’re now in the process of redeveloping," he said. "We have new chiefs, new sewer lines, new schools; we have lots of stuff happening. If someone thinks they are gong to come in and start over, they are dreaming."

There was also some discussion on whether it would be better to hire an experienced town leader, who may have his or her own ideas on how things should be run, or a younger person who may better adapt to a dynamic community and would also have the potential to stay longer. Zenkin said his view is that a candidate should have good knowledge of the laws pertaining to the position and have enough knowledge and experience to lead in a way similar to Mercier.

"I know we want someone who will be around for a while, but we also need someone who knows all of the minutia," he said. Bob [Mercier] knows it all and can just rattle it off and Town Meeting is used to that. There may be a learning curve but I think it’s important we have someone who is ready to be a town administrator.

Both Zenkin and Mercier spoke to the need for strong communication. Mercier explained that Burlington, unlike many other communities, does not run by a charter. This means, Mercier said, that the town administrator position has less power than in other communities and must work with department heads and other officials to get things done.

"[The town administrator] is not a top-down manager here so you need to communicate," Mercier said. "That is what makes it all work here. There are lots of ways to communicate and you need to keep those lines open. The best thing is that here in Burlington you have great department heads and that will help."

Mercier also said a candidate, in order to be recommended by committee to the Board of Selectmen, should be able to work both for residents and the business community.

"I look at things with the idea that a good, strong business environment helps build a community," Mercier said. "I always have considered the businesses partners. Everyone, residents and business alike, need to be treated with respect. A Town Administrator needs to nurture businesses and let them grow. This is what sustains Burlington."

Following the interviews with Mercier and Zenkin, the committee planned out its next moves. Members decided to write three questions each, with at least one specific to their expertise and interests, for the candidates. The questions will be shared and reviewed with other members and will form the base for the interviews with the candidates.

The committee will meet next at 3 p.m. on Feb. 27 in the basement meeting room to discuss the questions. Resumes from the Collins Center, which has advertised the position, are due on Feb. 24 and the committee expects to conduct interviews in early- or mid-March.

What do you think? If you could ask a question of the Town Administrator candidates, what would it be? Let us know in the comments section below.

Cathy Hofferty February 07, 2012 at 04:15 PM
Would you be willing to continue the town/school relationship that has worked so well in the past?
Richard Hosford February 07, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Great question Cathy! Anyone else have a question?

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