TRURO — After Robert Wood, the top town manager candidate, and the select board could not agree on salary and benefits, the board met on Sept. 4 to weigh its options: offer the job to its second choice in the first round, or return to the next available candidate, who was fourth on the list, since number three, Paul Fetherston of Colorado, had withdrawn his application.
In the original go-round, three select board members had reservations about Sean O’Brien, the head of the Barnstable County Dept. of Health and Environment, who was the second choice after Wood, the former interim city manager of Bastrop, Texas.
O’Brien, 55, was the favorite of board members Jan Worthington and Sue Areson. But Bob Weinstein, Stephanie Rein, and Kristen Reed all said they worried about O’Brien’s ability to manage an entire town. He has managed a county department with about 40 employees for four years and worked for that department since 1986. He also manages a $4 million annual budget. The Truro town budget is around $20 million a year.
A resident, Sue Howe, told the select board she was confused, after hearing all the interviews, as to why the board was not hiring O’Brien.
“I was so impressed with Mr. O’Brien,” Howe said, “and I would encourage you to watch that interview with Mr. O’Brien before you take a vote … to refresh your memories.”
Jim Summers, a member of the town manager screening committee, also wondered why the majority were opposed to the second-choice candidate.
Reed said they felt he did not have enough management experience.
Worthington warned her colleagues that they had already reviewed 80 applications during two rounds of executive searches. After the first round did not yield the minimum three to five finalists, the search committee conducted another nationwide search to come up with at least four favorites to recommend to the select board.
The chances of attracting 40 more people may be slim. “We couldn’t come up with anyone, and we’ve been through 80,” Worthington said. “Just saying.”
“Clearly, we’re not hiring [O’Brien],” said Areson. “I share Jan’s disappointment. I think it’s a mistake. So, we disagree, and that’s what happens on boards.”
Areson then suggested that if the fourth candidate doesn’t work out, the board hire an interim manager and conduct a whole new search.
Board members agreed that was the best way forward. Headhunter Bernie Lynch, of Community Paradigm Associates, agreed to ask the fourth candidate whether he still wants the job. If so, his name would be made public, and a string of interviews with town staff, the community, and the select board would begin as early as next week.
“He does remain interested, but he has not made a full commitment,” Lynch said. “He is 90 percent there, but he must notify his council first, and we have to respect that.”