After voting last summer not to renew the contract of the last town administrator, Milton selectmen are now considering two candidates who ran into similar situations in their towns.
The two men are among the three finalists who will be interviewed in a public meeting, expected sometime this month. The three finalists are Annemarie Fagan, Milton’s interim town administrator; Grady E. Miller, former town manager of Narragansett, R.I.; and Kevin O’Donnell, town administrator of Great Barrington.
Richard J. LaFond, the longtime town administrator of Carver, was also named a finalist, but withdrew his application, saying the job wasn’t the right fit for him at this time.
Mary McNamara, chairwoman of the search committee that selected the finalists from 40 applicants, confirmed that the elected boards in Great Barrington and Narragansett voted against O’Donnell and Miller.
Miller’s contract was terminated by the Narragansett Town Council in a special meeting last May. While Miller received strong support from members of the audience, three of the five councilors expressed doubts about his leadership abilities, the Providence Journal reported.
In Great Barrington, the Board of Selectmen voted last September not to renew O’Donnell’s contract following poor marks in two evaluations, the Berkshire Eagle reported. The contract expires in April, and O’Donnell remains on the job.
McNamara said that she and her committee were looking for candidates with previous town administrator experience, a vision for the community, leadership ability, and communication ability.
She added that just because a town board did not renew a contract doesn’t mean the applicant isn’t a good choice for Milton. Town administrators and managers must establish working relationships with each member of a board, and there are times when elected officials can reasonably disagree with the way an administrator is handling issues, she said.
Internal disputes led to the departure of Milton’s previous town administrator, Kevin Mearn. McNamara said she had thought Mearn was doing a good job and disagreed with the selectmen’s vote not to renew his contract.
But Selectman Denis Keohane told the Globe last summer that there had been a “huge communication breakdown” between Mearn and Police Chief Richard Wells. Keohane also said that morale at Town Hall was at an “all-time low.”
In July, Keohane and Selectman Robert Sweeney voted not to renew Mearn’s contract, while Board of Selectmen chairman Thomas Hurley thought it should be renewed.
Sweeney said the new town administrator should be someone who communicates well, can build a team, and has the managerial skills to handle the duties of the office.
Regarding the votes against two of the finalists, Sweeney said that would not prejudice him. “I’m going into those interviews with an open mind,” he said.
Sweeney said Milton town government was running smoothly, but that a new town administrator should be put in place soon. “In recent months, the town hasn’t missed a beat, but it is important we complete the process,” Sweeney said.
While reiterating that he was going into the interviews with an open mind, Sweeney also acknowledged that Fagan was overseeing a smooth transition as interim town administrator.
McNamara said the search committee made Fagan a finalist even though she had not earned a bachelor’s degree, which is part of the recently completed job description.
They placed weight on Fagan’s serving as interim town administrator three times for a total of 15 months, including the current stint, McNamara said.
“I was very honored to be included on the list,” Fagan said of the finalists. “I recognize that I don’t have the education requirement. . . . I believe my work experience and life experience more than make up for the education experience.”
Fagan expressed her love of Milton, saying she had lived in the town for 35 years and raised her four children there. She has been assistant town administrator for 13 years.
Communication is a crucial part of the town administrator job, she said, not only with department heads and committee members, but with residents as well. She listed several issues facing Milton, including the East Milton deck project, the wind turbine issue, and the buildings that serve as the gateways of the community, that she would address as town administrator.
O’Donnell, who described himself as a career city manager and town administrator, said it was a challenging profession.
“It basically involves mobilizing or trying to get together a number of individuals that have strong opinions that don’t agree with each other,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell stressed the importance of being as honest and direct as possible with selectmen. “You have to tell them the good news as well as the bad news, and the board has to be willing to accept that and not shoot the messenger, so to speak,” O’Donnell said.
Regarding the decision of Great Barrington’s selectmen, O’Donnell said the board “never gave me specific criteria and there were some board members that indicated they wanted me out.”
O’Donnell said he had made personnel decisions the board did not agree with, and in response they reviewed the town’s charter to change the town manager position.
Miller could not be reached for comment for this article.