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Northfield narrows search for administrator

NORTHFIELD — More than 20 applicants for town administrator have been whittled down to six.

The Town Administrator Search Committee will set up interviews with the finalists, and hopes to present three strong candidates for the Selectboard to choose from by March 10.

Ideally, the new administrator would begin in time for the May annual town meeting.

“I’m enthusiastic about it,” said Barry Bordner, committee chairman. “All of our top candidates have experience either as city managers, town administrators or assistant town administrators and they all meet or exceed the educational requirements.”

Requirements approved by a special town meeting include a bachelor’s degree in public or business administration or a related field, three years of administrative experience in financial and project management, or an equivalent combination of knowledge, skills and experience.

Bordner said the committee encouraged all town board and committee members, as well as employees, to provide feedback.

“We had some good comments, especially from the ladies who work in Town Hall,” he said. “We’re lucky; we’ve got some great employees in town. It’s especially important that the administrator be a good fit for them, because they’re the ones who will work with the administrator on a daily basis.”

While they sorted through the 23 resumes and cover letters that came in, committee members kept an eye out for positive and negative qualities.

“We’re looking for someone with good organizational and people skills. Someone who can really bring people together,” Bordner explained.

They’re also looking for someone who intends to stick around, get to know the town and see long-term projects to completion.

“We had one candidate who was extremely well-qualified, but they had worked for five towns in the last 15 years, spending three years at each and moving on,” said Bordner.

“To me, it’s a red flag when people move on too quickly,” said interim administrator Robert Markel.

Another red flag was long gaps in applicants’ employment histories, but Bordner said that wasn’t as big of a disqualifier.

“In this job market, some people are simply unemployed,” he said. “Others may have worked for decades, and decided to take a break.”

While the committee is confident that the new town administrator will be among the ones they recommend, there are still options available.

“If the Selectboard is unable to find a candidate they agree on, I’d recommend interviewing one or two search firms,” Markel said.

While it would cost an estimated $6,000 to $8,000, Markel said hiring a firm would produce a list of well-qualified administrators who are in the market to move.

“They know more than us about (which town administrators) are not being renewed, which are thinking of leaving, and what their qualifications are,” Markel explained.

Northfield has been without a full-time administrator since Thomas Hutcheson left last August to become Conway’s administrator.

Rather than immediately search for someone to replace him, Northfield decided to re-vamp the position to give it more authority, as well as more pay, and attract well-qualified applicants.

The town established a new pay grade for the town administrator, with $61,287 at the low end, topping out at $74,875.

Bordner was chairman of the Town Governance Study Committee, which recommended the changes to the administrator position. The committee held several public forums, and its recommendations were passed by a September special town meeting.

The town has been through two interim administrators, with Kevin Paicos from September to November, and former Springfield mayor Markel, coming after Paicos took a job out of state.

Markel said he’s not interested in the permanent, full-time position. A retired mayor, city councilor and political science professor, Markel said he took the interim position because he missed municipal work and wanted to get back into it on a part-time basis.

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