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Orange makes offer on community development job

ORANGE — Selectmen have made a job offer to Kevin Kennedy, and hope to hear by the end of the week whether he will accept as the town’s new community development director.

Kennedy currently works as the director of planning and community development in Thompson, Conn., a small town that, like Orange, is composed of several distinct villages. Kennedy has an master’s in urban and regional planning from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BA in architecture from University of North Carolina.

While board members selected Kennedy several weeks ago, state approval was required before they could proceed with the hire.

According to Karl Bittenbender, who serves as the town’s interim community development director, the state wanted to review the board’s top pick for the new director, as that person will oversee the state-funded community development block grant.

The $800,000 grant was originally awarded to the town with the understanding that it would be managed by the Franklin Regional Housing and Rehabilitation Authority in Turners Falls.

But this fall, selectmen voted to move the administration of that grant into Town Hall, prompting the new hire. The town has operated without a community development director in place for nearly a decade.

Town Administrator Diana Schindler said that bringing the position in-house will be a great boost to the town. “We’re at a critical point with community development … Although the Housing Authority did a great job, we need someone working here every day that understands our complex situation. We need a cheerleader to meet with real estate developers and funders” to develop commercial projects and additional funding. “I’m one of these cheerleaders, and now Kevin will be one.”

She said that while the new director will have his hands full with the administration of the CDBG grant for the next few months, he will in time be able to seek additional grants and stimulate new projects. If all goes well, the position may even pay for itself, as new grants come in.

Schindler said Kennedy brings strong skills, youthful energy and a fresh perspective to the position. She said his experiences in planning as well as community development will be a valuable asset to the town. According to Schindler, most candidates applying for community development positions do not have skills in both areas.

Board members chose Kennedy by a narrow margin over Gerald White, another candidate they said was also very well qualified. White has extensive military background, and currently works as a community development director in Winchendon. He remains the board’s second choice for the job should Kennedy decline the board’s offer.

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