Last week, Marblehead selectmen voted 3-0 to offer the job to Chelgren. Board members Jackie Belf-Becker, Judith R. Jacobi, and James E. Nye endorsed the choice, while Harry C. Christensen and Bret T. Murray did not vote because they have relatives who are Marblehead town employees.
Jacobi said Chelgren was chosen from a group of 63 applicants, which included another finalist, Thomas Younger, currently the interim town manager in Ipswich.
Jacobi said Chelgren was exactly the kind of administrator the town was searching for. "It's really a perfect fit for Marblehead. I think everything from his experience to his temperament will work in very well with our community," she said.
Tony Sasso, who was hired as Marblehead's first town administrator in 1994, plans to retire in the spring. Jacobi said she hoped the new administrator would start in May.
Chelgren was recently a finalist for the town administrator's post in Nahant, but selectmen there offered the job to Andrew Bisignani, former Saugus town manager.
Chelgren, 50, is a native of Montana and holds a bachelor's degree from South Dakota State University. He has served as Wenham's top administrator since 2002, and had also worked as the land use director and assistant town manager in Westford.
The offer by Marblehead selectmen came just three weeks after Chelgren applied for the post, a position he's eyed for almost two decades. Chelgren has lived in a home in Lynn's Diamond District for 18 years, which he shares with his husband, and said he realized almost immediately that he wanted to work in a coastal community near his home.
"Right away when I settled in here, I told myself 'Marblehead is my dream job,''' he said. "It's just a quintessential New England community.''
Chelgren, who earns $94,000 a year in Wenham, has begun negotiations with the Marblehead board.
The advertisement for the position did not include a proposed salary, although Jacobi said Sasso currently makes more than $120,000 a year. Sasso did not return several phone calls for this article.
As he prepares to transition to the Marblehead post, Chelgren acknowledged that he would be dealing with a much bigger town. Wenham has a population of 5,129 and a $15 million annual budget; Marblehead has 19,808 residents and a budget of about $60 million.
Chelgren believes preparing the budget is the biggest part of a town administrator's job, and said that he creates a five-year financial forecast and a 30-year capital purchase budget.
He described himself as a "computer-driven" manager who relies on spreadsheets and databases to help make municipal decisions.
"One of my strongest suits is that I like to plan things, and look out five years or 30 years," he said. "I'm an engaged manager. I take the job very seriously. I;m 24-7 and I want to be involved in as many things as I can."
Molly Martins, chairwoman of the Wenham Board of Selectmen, praised Chelgren's communication and financial skills. "I think he's creative, he's very well qualified; he's got some good experience. Wenham has certainly benefited and Marblehead is lucky to get him," she said.
In addition to planning ahead on the budget, Martins said, Chelgren played a key role in expanding regionalization in Wenham and Hamilton. During his tenure, the two towns have decided to share ground maintenance services, and also have a shared Council on Aging director.
Martins said no decision has been made about how to direct a search to replace Chelgren. She said she plans to recommend that the town hire an interim town administrator.
Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com.