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UMass consultants to help Northfield find town admin.

NORTHFIELD — The town will bring in nonprofit consultants to help find a fit for its revamped town administrator position.

The Selectboard hopes to hire the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management of the University of Massachusetts, Boston. For $7,000, the firm would come up with a profile of Northfield and use it to find several well-qualified candidates to present to the board.

The board just needs the Finance Committee’s OK to use $7,000 of reserve funds to hire the firm.

The town has been without a full-time administrator since August, when Tom Hutcheson left to take a similar job in Conway. When Hutcheson left, the town took the opportunity to re-tool the position, giving it more authority over town departments and Northfield’s day-to-day business.

A previous search failed to yield a candidate the Selectboard felt had the experience and leadership skills to usher in a new form of town administration, so the board decided to seek professional help to find professional help.

Tuesday, the Selectboard met with Collins Center consultant Richard Kobayashi. He said the process is more involved than just advertising the job and cold-calling prospective candidates.

“We would take the time to find out what your needs are and what kind of issues are likely to show up on (the administrator’s) desk in the next three to five years, and look for someone with that kind of experience,” said Kobayashi.

He said it would take at least two months to present Northfield with a list of candidates. The firm would research the town and work with the board to come up with a profile for the position for the first month, and allow another month to develop and vet a list of candidates.

Usually, said Kobayashi, the firm would charge a town $14,000 to come up with a town profile, develop and interview a pool of candidates, and recommend the top three to five to the town for review.

Instead of this start-to-finish approach, the Collins Center would leave it to the board to narrow the initial list of pre-vetted candidates.

Any recommendations consultants make to the town would be public information, whether it’s a large pool of candidates or three frontrunners. Selectboard members worried this could give some candidates cold feet, especially if they are still working elsewhere.

Kobayashi said he would look into the legality of presenting the board with a “blind list,” which would let the board review candidates’ resumes and other information without their names attached. Once the board narrowed it to a few finalists, their names would be made public and candidate interviews would happen during public Selectboard meetings.

Kobayashi said the Collins Center has had a lot of success in bringing towns and professionals together. He said the firm has placed 30 town managers and administrators in recent years, and 29 of them are still in those positions.

Interim administrator Robert Markel vouched for the Collins Center and its process, which often involves finding already-employed professionals and persuading them to apply for the job.

“I’ve always been an advocate of this kind of approach,” he said. “The (Collins Center’s) value is in knowing qualified people that are perhaps available for the position but wouldn’t have applied on their own.”

Markel’s interim contract has already been extended twice as the town seeks a permanent administrator. His current extension will end in mid-May, but he previously told the board he would be open to a third extension.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279 @RecorderRain

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