WELLFLEET — The select board has chosen consultant Richard White to lead the search for a new town administrator. The choice was made by a unanimous vote during the board’s Nov. 23 meeting.
White is a principal of Groux-White Consulting of Lexington and Chatham. He has served as town administrator in Dennis and as town manager of both Lexington and Winthrop. He was the consultant to the town of Provincetown for its most recent town manager search, which resulted in the hiring of former Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse in February.
“I’ve known Rick for a long time,” said interim Town Administrator Charles Sumner, who served as administrator in Brewster for many years. “He was a town manager over almost 40 years. He’ll do a good job for Wellfleet.”
White’s consultations with the select board, the town administrator screening committee, and various community leaders started on Monday, Nov. 29. White plans to present a package of candidates’ applications to the select board during the second week of January.
The top three candidates will likely be selected by the end of February, White told the Independent.
While the holidays can make recruiting difficult, “The fit is really important to us,” White said during his presentation to the select board. “We do a very deep dive in terms of trying to identify the skills, qualities, qualifications, and attributes that are needed for Wellfleet.”
Those skills, he said, include familiarity with Mass. General Laws, deep experience in budgeting, and an understanding of municipal finance.
“It’s equally important to hire someone who is a great leader, knows how to communicate, and can bring the organization together and utilize resources,” White said. “The town has had significant turnover of long-term employees and struggled to develop a system of communication, creating some stability and a collaborative work culture.”
The last permanent town administrator, Maria Broadbent, arrived in town in August 2020, having previously served as town manager of Berwyn Heights, Md. She was chosen for her knowledge of environment issues, collective bargaining, and affordable housing, according to select board members Janet Reinhart and Helen Miranda Wilson.
Finance committee chair Fred Magee said this week that when Broadbent introduced herself in September 2020, she told him, “I know nothing about finance.” Magee added, “It was the first thing she said to me.”
Broadbent resigned in April 2021, just nine months into her three-year contract. She left the town largely unprepared for the annual town meeting, with its finances in disarray. A team of volunteers was called in to prepare an error-riddled town budget for the annual meeting, which was put off until nearly the last possible day in late June.
Broadbent had been chosen, along with one other finalist, Shawn MacInnes, by a screening committee appointed by the select board. The members of the screening committee were Harry Terkanian, Deborah Freeman, Elisabeth Smith, Jim Hood, and David Mead-Fox. Terkanian served as chair.
The accounting disaster that confronted Broadbent predated her arrival in Wellfleet by at least two years. Before Broadbent, Dan Hoort held the town administrator position from 2016 until he retired in 2020. The extent of that disaster was not known until town auditors were prodded to take action by the whistle-blowing accountant Heather Michaud (see related story on page A1).
“The financial challenges need to be addressed long-term as a priority and a skillset,” White said during his presentation to the select board. “It will be important to take what Charlie and the financial staff has accomplished over the last six to nine months and build on it.”
The town sent three requests for proposals to executive search consultants. White’s was the only response, said Sumner. His $9,920 service contract includes consultations with the select board, screening committee, and community leaders; developing a job description and professional qualifications and determining the salary package; recruitment of candidates; reviewing applicants; interviews; presenting a list of finalists to the select board; and negotiation of the contract.
A new five-member screening committee, responsible for presenting three to five finalists, includes Sumner; Fire Chief Richard Pauley; Arthur Parker, a retired police officer who is a private investigator; attorney Bruce Bierhans; and Kathy Granlund, chair of the finance committee. The screening committee will interview prequalified candidates but also has the authority to interview anyone they want, White said.
“We’re there to act as staff support, staff resources for the screening committee,” he added. Sumner was also on the screening committee during Provincetown’s search. “He played a very neutral role,” White said. “He didn’t vote.”
“I want to make sure we have an opportunity to capture as many applications as we can,” select board member Mike DeVasto said following White’s presentation.
Of the Provincetown search, White said, “We had over 100 applicants and 12 high-quality applicants that the screening committee could have interviewed.”
At least half of the finalists are usually recruited, he said, “someone who wasn’t thinking of applying for the job but that we convinced that this was a great opportunity for them and something they might be interested in.
“I don’t want to put them in a situation where I know they are going to fail,” he added. “The in-depth process that we use is to understand and define the qualities of the candidates that you need. A rigid ‘this is how I do things’ town administrator is not going to be successful on the Cape because it’s probably the most intensely retailed position that I held in the 40 years I’ve done this.”