WELLFLEET — As the town heads into budget and warrant season, its leaders have been faced with a more urgent job: finding a new administrator for its rapidly approaching busiest season.
The select board voted on Tuesday to appoint Tom Guerino interim town administrator, two weeks after Assistant Town Administrator Silvio Genao announced that he would not take the job. The board had appointed Genao on Jan. 9 following Town Administrator Rich Waldo’s resignation.
Guerino is currently director of the Greenfield Housing Authority. He served 14 years as town administrator in Bourne, according to a letter submitted to the select board. He also served as interim municipal manager of the Town of Putney, Vt., as well as executive director of the Mass. Rural Development Council, according to his résumé.
The selection came after public interviews with four candidates. At its Jan. 30 meeting, the board narrowed the choice to Guerino or former Wellfleet Town Administrator Harry Terkanian. Chair Barbara Carboni and vice chair John Wolf wanted Terkanian; members Michael DeVasto, Ryan Curley, and Tim Sayre favored Guerino.
Current Bourne Assistant Town Administrator Liz Hartsgrove and Kenneth Eldridge, a resident of Wellfleet and former select board member in Littleton, also applied for the position.
Waldo’s last day at town hall is Feb. 9, and Genao will leave less than a week later, on Feb. 15. Waldo had been Wellfleet’s administrator for 18 months; Genao had been in place for only three months.
Both cited disharmony with the select board and job stress as their reasons for resigning.
On Jan. 24, Carboni said, “This is not an ideal way to conduct the start of a search, but we are on a very short timeline, and there was not really time for the normal process. We are doing the best we can under the circumstances.”
But select board members said they were impressed with the candidates. DeVasto said that Guerino’s background “is everything we need. I am 100 percent confident in his ability to move the ball forward. It is clear he has a breadth of administrative experience, knowledge, and professionalism.”
Curley expressed interest in Guerino’s municipal finance experience. According to Guerino’s cover letter, during his tenure in Bourne, the town’s bond rating from Standard and Poor’s increased from AA- to AA+.
“Having someone who brings financial acumen is important,” Curley said.
Carboni said that Terkanian’s background in Wellfleet would provide needed stability to a tumultuous moment at town hall. “We need as much familiarity as possible, both on the part of the interim but also on the part of staff,” Carboni said.
During Guerino’s interview with the board on Jan. 29, he said he hoped his tenure as interim town administrator would last a year. Select board members deliberated on whether a year contract would violate the town charter, which stipulates that the appointment of an interim town administrator cannot exceed 90 days but can be renewed.
The board ultimately voted to appoint Guerino as interim administrator “subject to successful contract negotiations” and to appoint Terkanian as interim if contract negotiations with Guerino fail.
Questions of Staffing
At the select board’s two interview sessions on Jan. 24 and Jan. 29, board members laid out their priorities for an interim administrator.
Carboni listed staffing as her main concern. “We are in a vulnerable place right now with the transition, and I want to make sure that the staff feels supported and listened to,” she said. “I am looking for someone who is a good manager of people and someone who is interested in employee retention.”
She asked candidates about the town administrator’s role in supporting and retaining staff during a transitional period.
“My management style is horizontal as opposed to vertical,” said Guerino. “My job is to help facilitate for them to do their best job, offer guidance and support — the idea is not to micromanage.” Retaining staff is about finding out “what the impetus is that people are leaving, how do we meet with the board to address those issues and calm the water,” he said. “That’s what I can bring to the table.”
“I make the rounds with department heads to try to find out what is on their mind, what they see on the horizon that is going to need attention,” Terkanian told the board. “I am there to help them with problems as opposed to telling them how to run their department.”
Staff retention revolves around working conditions, training, and compensation, Terkanian said. “It’s striking a balance between doing the best you can for your employees and respecting the fact that you have your hands on the taxpayers’ wallets.”
DeVasto asked about the select board’s working relationship with the town administrator: “How would you respond to a select board member who oversteps into the administrative role in operations?”
“We need to go to the board and get their buy-in to be sure that we are all marching the same way,” Guerino said. “The charter is very clear.”
Working With the Public
Another concern expressed at the candidate interviews was the erosion of trust between members of the public and local government. Wolf called heated exchanges at public meetings “very pointed, very personal, and very nasty. Is that something you are mentally prepared to deal with?” Wolf asked.
Terkanian said that acrimony at meetings is “unfortunately one of the joys of public service.”
Select board members asked each candidate to outline how they would respond to such exchanges.
“There seems to be a communication issue going two ways,” Guerino said. “There needs to be clear understandings of the role of municipal government. But lack of respect for another person’s position can’t be tolerated.”
“The thing you can do is to be transparent and to try to lower the temperature of the debate in terms of being concise, factual, and not engaging in ad hominem attacks,” Terkanian said.
The town is in the process of hiring a recruiting consultant to help search for a permanent town administrator, said Carboni. Solicitations for quotes from interested vendors “will go out shortly,” she told the Independent.
The board will also appoint citizens to a screening committee to interview candidates for the position; the committee will select three finalists for the select board to interview. The board does not have a deadline for hiring a permanent town administrator, Carboni said.
The new town administrator will appoint an interim or permanent assistant town administrator, as required by the charter, said Carboni.
“Onward through the fog,” DeVasto said at the Jan. 30 meeting.