BRIDGEWATER — Former Vineyard Haven town administrator Michael Dutton has been chosen as Bridgewater’s new town manager, and is now working out an agreement to take the helm of the town of 27,000.
Dutton, expected to start in mid-December, said he admires Bridgewater for its recent decision to change from a selectmen form of government to that of a town council.
“Now is a great time to be there: at the beginning,” he said. “Bridgewater is really poised for some great things.”
For Bridgewater, Dutton’s arrival comes at the end of several difficult months that saw the departure of former town manager Troy Clarkson, who had engaged in a power struggle with the Town Council since its nine members took office in January 2011, and a subsequent recall of two councilors. Adding to the list of challenges is the recently announced resignation of the town accountant just as budget season begins, and the need to find offices for town employees displaced from municipal buildings too dilapidated to provide safe space.
In an interview Wednesday, Dutton, a lawyer, said he was unfazed by the town’s difficulties.
“Obviously there are some short-term problems that will have to be addressed immediately, but my inclination is that it’s better to think long-term,” he said.
Hiring a top administrator who values long-term planning was named as a high priority by the council.
Councilor William Wood, who ultimately nominated Dutton following a discussion Tuesday, told his colleagues he was looking for a day-to-day administrator, but also a leader who “stands on the tower and says, ‘We’re going in that direction.’”
Bridgewater’s short-term difficulties may also have given Dutton the edge over the three other finalists. “Mr. Dutton was put into a lot of situations, and he managed through them and succeeded,” said Councilor Michael Berolini.
Councilor Sheila Whitaker agreed, noting Dutton had demonstrated in the past “his ability to bring difficult situations under control.”
Dutton, who grew up in New York, is an attorney in private practice on Martha’s Vineyard. His municipal government experience consists of five years as Vineyard Haven’s town administrator, from 2006 until 2011.
While in the private sector, he spent four years on the senior management team at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, helping to win back public confidence after the hospital had gone through a bankruptcy, and six years as vice president, senior trust officer, and trust counsel for Cape Cod Bank & Trust.
Dutton’s introduction to municipal government came as a three-term member of Vineyard Haven’s Board of Selectmen. In 2006, he took the job as administrator, at the urging of some colleagues on the board, he said.
“I expected to do it for about a year, but I found I loved it, with its multifaceted aspects, daily problem-solving, and the ability to look long-term,” Dutton said. “Having been in the private sector, I can tell you government work is some of the most difficult.”
While Dutton lacks public administration degrees usually held by town managers, councilors said Tuesday they favored his communication skills, ties to the business community, and proven personnel management ability.
“This is somebody that’s going to not only be working with us and establishing trust with us, but with our town employees,” said Town Council President Kristy Colon. “They need someone who is a motivator; someone that can bring them back to a positive place.”
Dutton said Wednesday trust and confidence are won gradually by one’s actions. “I’m not coming to Bridgewater to throw my weight around and pick battles,” he said. “I think government works best by building consensus. Employees need to see a town manager who is committed to the town and willing to stick it out and address the hard issues.”
During Tuesday’s discussion, the Town Council didn’t mention a situation in Vineyard Haven that ultimately led to Dutton’s resignation in 2011. Dutton had been admonished by the state attorney general’s office for not following the Massachusetts procurement laws, which require all contracts for more than $5,000 to undergo a bid process.
The only comment made Tuesday was by Councilor Paul Sullivan, who warned it would be important for the new town manager to be up-to-speed on procurement requirements.
Dutton said Wednesday that the state’s principal point of concern had been over a contract to repair the library’s roof.
“We did make an error in the procurement process,” he said. “We didn’t follow emergency procedures. But on the positive side, I was able to organize some legal help from Boston to give some procurement seminars for all the surrounding towns.”
Dutton said his mutually agreed upon resignation in Vineyard Haven shortly after the procurement flap was “rooted in politics.”
While Dutton will start in Bridgewater later this month, his family won’t move from Vineyard Haven until his son finishes eighth grade in June. His stepdaughter is already in the area, a junior at Bridgewater State University.
The other finalists for the town manager job included Mark Stankiewicz, of Stoughton; William DiLibero of North Kingstown, R.I.; and O. Paul Shew of Franklin.
While Dutton’s salary is under negotiation, the Bridgewater position had been advertised as paying in the low-to-mid $100,000 range. Clarkson was paid about $92,500.