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Ex-Quincy mayor Phelan offered top Holbrook post

William Phelan William Phelan
By Jennette Barnes
Globe Correspondent / October 2, 2011

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Former Quincy mayor William J. Phelan has been offered the position of town administrator in Holbrook, but his contract hinges on whether he and the Board of Selectmen can agree on how Phelan, a lawyer with a practice in Quincy, will divide his time.

Phelan intends to continue practicing law, as he has since March, when he began serving as Holbrook’s interim town administrator. The selectmen are willing to allow him flexible hours, but some have questioned whether Phelan can predict what hours he will spend in town.

Phelan cannot merely “squeeze us in between court dates,’’ Selectman Matthew Moore said.

The board wants Phelan to post some or all of his hours a week in advance, so Town Hall employees and the public know when they can find him. During deliberations on Tuesday, they could not agree on how many hours he should post.

“I think we need more structure than we’ve had over the last six months or so,’’ said Timothy Gordon, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. He and other board members said they had no reservations about the amount of effort Phelan expends for the town, adding they only seek transparency and disclosure.

The board voted, 5 to 0, to appoint Phelan. At the close of the meeting, he left the room quietly. He initially declined comment, but when pressed on the issue of posting hours, he said the town “definitely deserves accountability.’’

The board also decided, 3 to 0, with two abstentions, to select David J. Marciello, also an attorney, as a second choice in the event that they do not come to an agreement with Phelan.

Marciello worked as town administrator in Rehoboth from 2001 until this year, departing after that town’s Board of Selectmen voted not to renew his contract.

Selectman Richard McGaughey, one of the members who abstained, warned the board they could lose Phelan if they named a second choice. If Holbrook were the Red Sox, he said, he would rather have Jacoby Ellsbury play three games a week than a less desirable player play every game.

“We have a winner, and I would hate to lose a winner,’’ he said.

Further, McGaughey said he did not want to label the other finalist, Avon Selectman Francis A. “Frank’’ Hegarty, as a third-place finisher. Selectman Kevin Sheehan abstained as well.

Hegarty has been a leading figure in local discussions about regionalizing town services, including Holbrook’s recent talks with Avon about sharing a regional school system. Holbrook selectmen signaled their support for that effort Tuesday by voting to ask Town Meeting to create a school regionalization study committee.

In the debate over the town administrator’s post, board members had glowing things to say about all three finalists, two of whom - Phelan and Marciello - attended the meeting. They praised Hegarty’s deep knowledge of local government, gleaned from nearly 40 years serving on town boards, and his experience in business management.

Moore said he would rank Marciello above the others for his experience as a town administrator in a similar-size community and his “very progressive’’ way of viewing the position. When he practiced law, Marciello specialized in municipal and employment law.

During the meeting, as selectmen raised questions about various procedural issues, Marciello spoke up repeatedly - after most of the board had expressed a preference for Phelan - to answer their questions, citing the relevant laws.

Selectmen lauded Phelan for his hard work as the interim administrator, his experience running a city of more than 92,000, and his knowledge of state government.

Phelan was elected mayor of Quincy in 2001, lost the seat to Thomas P. Koch in 2007, then tried unsuccessfully to regain the seat in 2009.

After Moore called for a “fresh way of thinking’’ in the new administrator, McGaughey said the town already has that in Phelan.

“I think we are seeing the new way of doing things,’’ he said. “I’m very thankful that he’s squeezing us in.’’

Though Moore ranked Marciello at the top, he later voted in favor of the unanimous motion to select Phelan.

Contract negotiations are expected to begin this week. Town Meeting appropriated a salary of $76,400 for this fiscal year.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.