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Northfield to decide on town admin. overhaul

NORTHFIELD — The Selectboard will soon decide whether to support an increase to the town administrator’s duties, authority and possibly pay.

When former Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson announced that he was leaving in August after less than three years on the job, the town decided to hold off on seeking a replacement. An interim administrator was hired, and the Town Governance Study Committee tailored a new job description for a stronger town administrator and submitted it last month, and the Selectboard hopes to vote on it Tuesday.

The duties and powers in that description, as well as any pay raise, will need town meeting approval. The current version of the job description was adopted by the 2011 annual town meeting.

Selectboard Chairman John “Jack” Spanbauer said the board has three options. It can bring the new description to town meeting with or without supporting it, or it can stay the course and keep the current job description. Either way, the search for a permanent town administrator won’t go on until decisions are made, and Spanbauer suggested the board not put things off any longer.

The longer they wait, the longer the town will be paying interim Town Administrator Kevin Paicos. He was hired last month, working 20 hour weeks for $43 per hour without benefits.

If Paicos were to work half-time for 12 months, it would cost the town about $44,720. Hutcheson, who worked full-time, was paid $50,829 for last fiscal year.

If the new description is accepted, its increased requirements and responsibilities would warrant a pay raise, according to the Town Governance Study Committee.

A committee is being formed to determine just how much of a raise that should be. It will be composed of Spanbauer, Paicos and a Finance Committee member to be named.

Responsibilities

The proposal would make the administrator responsible for coordinating economic development strategies with public and private entities at the local, state and national level. The administrator would also be asked to introduce new business and economic ventures to town agencies, and negotiate payment in lieu of taxes agreements with current and future institutions in town.

The administrator would become the town’s chief purchasing agent, a position currently held by the chairman of the Selectboard.

Under the proposed job description, all department heads would report to the town administrator, rather than the Selectboard, as they do now.

The administrator would also supervise all town employees. The administrator is currently direct supervisor of only the town secretary, dog officer and Town Hall custodian. The position would also coordinate town volunteers.

The Selectboard now makes all appointments for non-elected town positions. Under the proposal, the board would make appointments to boards, committees, and some staff positions, and the administrator would appoint people to other positions. The board would be able to reject any appointment the administrator makes.

The administrator would also gain the right to contact town counsel without seeking Selectboard approval.

The town administrator is already responsible for helping prepare the town’s annual budget, and the proposal would give the position oversight of the budget’s daily administration. It would also have the administrator monitor spending trends and report potential problems to the Selectboard.

The proposed responsibilities also spell out several aspects of the town’s day-to-day operations, many of which were included in previous job descriptions.

Requirements

The current and proposed job descriptions both seek applicants with a bachelor’s degree in public administration, business administration or a related field. The proposed requirements also ask for three years’ administrative experience with financial and management experience, preferably in a municipal setting. The current requirements seek three years’ of “municipal experience” without adding specifics. Both descriptions state that an “equivalent” combination of experience and education may be substituted.

The proposed description also gives an expanded list of knowledge, skills and abilities required of candidates.

New items on the list include: a considerable knowledge of office management; skill in personnel administration such as hirings, firings, promotions and training; the ability to prepare comprehensive studies including technical and statistical reports, analyze problems and formulate recommendations; and the ability to develop, implement and evaluate administrative policies and procedures.

Board’s concerns

The board briefly discussed the proposal at its Sept. 17 meeting, though it took no vote.

Spanbauer said that making the administrator the supervisor of all town employees and department heads could be controversial.

Board member Jed Proujansky wondered if the administrator should be able to contact town counsel without the board’s approval, since it could result in extra legal costs. Spanbauer agreed.

Whether the town adopts the proposed job description or decides to use the current one, a search committee will develop and screen a list of candidates qualified for the position. The Selectboard will be responsible for the final selection and hiring processes.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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