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Northfield appoints members to administrator screening committee

NORTHFIELD — The town is slowly working its way toward hiring a new town administrator.

The Selectboard appointed five members to a Town Administrator Screening Committee Tuesday, contingent on appointees’ acceptance of the task.

Tentative appointees are Finance Committee chairwoman Lois Stearns, former interim Town Administrator Robert Markel, Town Secretary Sandra Wood and resident Susan Wright, who has served as administrative assistant and town administrator in several western Massachusetts towns. Selectboard member and former Northfield Administrative Assistant Tracy Rogers was appointed to represent the board on the screening committee.

Northfield has been without a permanent town administrator since Thomas Hutcheson left to become administrator of Conway last August.

The town tried to find a new administrator by advertising the position itself, but failed to come up with a qualified candidate and decided to seek professional help.

For $7,000, the town hired the Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management of the University of Massachusetts Boston campus to solicit applications for the town administrator position. The center has come up with 17 applicants and may help the screening committee whittle them down to a more manageable number.

Interim Town Adminsitrator Kevin Paicos was asked by the board Tuesday to see if the consultants would be willing to meet once or twice with the screening committee to go over applicants at no charge.

The center usually charges $14,000 for a “soup to nuts” search that includes advertising the position, culling the candidates, recommending a handful of finalists and helping with contract negotiations. The town decided to hire them for half the work at half the price.

The Selectboard will make the final decision on who to hire. While board members were glad to see that 17 pre-vetted candidates applied for the position, the large pool could create a problem.

If the board were to screen applicants itself, their resumes would become part of the public record. That could make things difficult for applicants who haven’t told their current employers they’re looking for another job, said Selectboard Chairman John “Jack” Spanbauer.

The screening committee, however, would be able to narrow the pool without releasing the applicant’s names.

Once the pool is narrowed to a handful of finalists, Spanbauer said, it will be turned over to the board and the names will become public. At that point, the board would be ready to begin interviewing candidates. Interviews would be held in open session, per the state Open Meeting Law.

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