TRURO — Robert Wood, a Texan, will become the next town manager here, succeeding Rae Ann Palmer, who chose not to seek a renewal of her contract this year.
Though they ultimately voted unanimously, the five select board members were divided over the choice. Kristen Reed, Robert Weinstein, and Stephanie Rein favored Wood, 49, for his 20 years as a city manager. Board members Jan Worthington and Sue Areson wanted Sean O’Brien, who is head of Barnstable County’s Dept. of Health and Environment, because he came recommended by police and fire officials and others who have worked with him for over 30 years in his roles both as a health official and as the county’s emergency preparedness coordinator.
The third finalist, Paul Fetherston, withdrew his candidacy after his interview on Aug. 11, said Weinstein, the board chair.
Wood has held three positions in his career before this. The first was as city manager of Flatonia, Texas, with about 1,400 residents, for eight years. He then served for 12 years as city manager of West Lake Hills, Texas, a suburb of Austin. After that, he took a job as interim city manager for four months in Bastrop, Texas.
Prior to their vote on Aug. 12, Reed said, “Robert far surpasses Sean because he has managerial experience.”
“I think it can be a strength to understand the community,” he said, “but for me, I think it is important that the person who is hired to be a manager brings managerial skills to the job — wide ranging ones.”
Worthington argued strongly for O’Brien based on the recommendations of people who know him.
“If you go with Robert, you have to know you are taking a flyer,” Worthington said. “There is always a big chance you take when you take people from other parts of the county and put them in Truro.”
Wood said he gets that New Englanders may be a little wary of a guy from Texas. His last job, in Bastrop, ended, he said, with a mutual understanding that he was not the right fit for a permanent position there. One reason, he said, was that he differed from the more conservative members of the county on social issues.
In Texas, as in Truro, a city manager is appointed to be the chief administrator of the municipality, and Wood said he leaves the politics to the elected mayor and city councilors. But when an argument to remove Confederate statues broke out in Bastrop, he saw it as a social issue with implications for the town’s future.
On July 9, the Austin American-Statesman mentioned Wood in coverage of an emotional hearing on the issue.
“Speaking on his own behalf,” the newspaper reported, “Wood said that characterizing the Confederate secession and Civil War as an issue over states’ rights and casting slavery as a secondary or irrelevant factor is delusional.”
Wood stated at the hearing that he got an email from a man looking to relocate to Bastrop, but when the man learned of the Confederate monuments in the city, “he nixed Bastrop from his list,” the American-Statesman reported.
Wood is then quoted: “Even if you don’t have a problem with the symbolism that goes with the two monuments, which is racism and slavery, think about the impact that it has on the community and what it says about the community of Bastrop.”
When interviewed Tuesday by the Independent, Wood was touring Truro for the first time ever. He had accepted the job sight unseen following Zoom interviews.
“It’s incredibly beautiful,” Wood said.
Wood, who has two children in college, said he plans to get settled in Truro or a nearby town before the Sept. 15 annual town meeting. Wood’s start date won’t be set until his contract is finalized, but he expects to be on the job before the meeting, working alongside Palmer, who plans to stay on until the end of that month.