Voelker selected as Orange town administrator

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

ORANGE — After a yearlong search not without turmoil, Orange has a town administrator.

Gabriele Voelker, 60, of New Salem was offered — and has accepted — a contract from the Orange Selectboard Wednesday night. The contract, effective immediately, expires in July of 2021, and guarantees a salary of $82,725, with 1.5 percent increases in salary for the second and third year.

After the Selectboard unanimously voted to sign the contract, Police Chief Craig Lundgren, who was also the chairman of the Town Administrator Search Committee, took a chance to congratulate Voelker.

There was a sigh of relief in the room following Voelker’s appointment, and the various members of town government — including members of the School Committee, the Selectboard and the Town Clerk — clapped their hands and said, “Finally.”

In the past few months, as the candidates for town administrator were whittled down to a few finalists, there was much debate about who should take the position and whether the search process was done fairly.

For example, former Selectboard Chairman Richard Sheridan contacted the state Ethics Commission in March to file complaints against his colleagues Ryan Mailloux, the current Selectboard Chairman, and current Selectboard Vice Chairwoman Jane Peirce, alleging that Mailloux and Peirce showed inappropriate favoritism toward Voelker as a candidate.

Sheridan subsequently resigned from the Selectboard one meeting after Mailloux, Peirce and Selectboard members Tom Smith and James Cornwell supported Voelker for the role. Although Sheridan did not give explicit reasons for his resignation, he was the only member of the Selectboard to choose someone other than Voelker as the top pick for the job.

A timeline of events

The search for a new town administrator began in 2017 following the resignation of previous Town Administrator Diana M. Schindler on Aug. 11 — Schindler had been on a leave of absence for several months before her resignation.

The Selectboard created and charged a Town Administrator Search Committee with screening 22 candidates for the job, leading to a months-long interview process. All the while, Voelker was acting town administrator as well as her official roles of treasurer and finance director.

The results of the Town Administrator Search Committee’s interviews led to some controversy, however.

On March 21, the Town Administrator Search Committee Chairman Lundgren attended a Selectboard meeting to present the committee’s three chosen finalists for the job. The Selectboard was to interview those three finalists and choose which of them to hire.

But Voelker was absent among the three finalists. Mailloux, the Selectboard’s vice chairman at the time, called the exclusion of Voelker a “slap in the face,” and asserted that Voelker should be a finalist.

Mailloux said Voelker had proven her abilities and dedication to the town, while the three presented finalists had not, and that Voelker had an excellent educational background. He also speculated that there might have been some “behind the scenes” dealings that led to Voelker’s exclusion.

Peirce agreed that Voelker should be a finalist and get interviewed. She said that it is a common courtesy to interview the person currently acting in the available position. Peirce and Mailloux’s support caused Sheridan’s ethics complaints.

Mailloux’s characterization of the search process as having been done without integrity caused anger among the Town Administrator Search Committee’s members, several of whom showed up at the March 28 Selectboard meeting to denounce Mailloux’s assertions.

One of the three presented finalists also withdrew their application, which Sheridan speculated may have been because of the controversy.

Eventually, the Selectboard decided that the two of the three finalists still interested in the job, as well as two more to be selected by the Town Administrator Search Committee, should be interviewed.

The four new “finalists” were original finalists Candace Ouillette Gaumond of Ware, the administrative assistant to the town administrator and Selectboard in Wilbraham; Johanna Swain of Barre, the executive secretary and acting town administrator in West Brookfield; as well as the search committee’s new picks Kerrie Carnes Salwa of Clinton, economic development director in Leominster and Voelker.

After interviewing those four applicants on April 25, each Selectboard member declared their pick for the position. Peirce, Mailloux, Smith and Cornwell chose Voelker, while Sheridan chose Carnes Salwa. The next meeting, May 2, saw Sheridan’s abrupt resignation.

Moving forward

Now that she is officially the town administrator, Voelker will have to leave her position as treasurer. However, there is nobody available to fill the treasurer position immediately.

On Wednesday night, the Selectboard — having sought legal counsel — appointed Voelker as a volunteer treasurer. She will continue doing the job, in addition to her role as town administrator, but now without pay until a treasurer is hired.

Voelker has to report to the Selectboard for review after 60 days, 90 days and then annually. She also has the authority to hire staff including a human resources administrator and treasurer.

Reach David McLellan at
or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.