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Williamstown Town Manager Search Committee Talks About Accelerated Process
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:35AM / Friday, March 04, 2022
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Town Manager Search Advisory Committee on Tuesday discussed an aggressive schedule that would have the body make its recommendations to the Select Board in time for action by the end of the month.
In its first meeting since last year's search process failed to identify a successful candidate, the same panel convened to talk about next steps this time around.
Hugh Daley, who co-chairs the search panel with fellow Select Board member Jane Patton, pressed the search group to consider compressing its interview schedule in order to secure a qualified candidate in a highly competitive market.
"Every day we're not trying to say yes to somebody, they may be saying yes to somebody [else]," Daley said. "That's the risk. This is really about [consultant Lee Szymborski of GovHR] getting to candidates that we're interested in them as quickly as possible ... so they're not making a decision to take another job."
Szymborski told the Search Committee that his firm would deliver a portfolio of pre-screened candidates by March 17 so the panel could meet, as previously announced, on March 22, to decide who to interview.
The committee went into Tuesday's meeting with a calendar that included evening interviews on March 29, 30 and 31 followed by a Friday, April 1, morning session to decide on finalists to send to the Select Board.
During the discussion on Tuesday, it was suggested the Search Committee instead could hold a full day of interviews the week of March 28 and decide on the finalists that day with the Select Board meeting as soon as the next day to interview the finalists and offer the position.
Such a schedule would make it unlikely that the town could hold a "meet and greet" for the finalists the night before the final interview, as it did in 2015 when it hired Jason Hoch and again last October. It also could make it difficult to allow finalists to meet with Town Hall staff the day before the Select Board interviews so that staff can provide feedback to the board.
At least one member of the search committee balked at the idea of a radical change from the timeline previously laid out.
"Evenings I'm OK with, but you're talking about the whole day on those days," Abigail Reifsnyder said. "That stresses me out. I'm just back from vacation. I can't take the whole day. That's my personal problem, but it's not what I was expecting."
Dan Gura also said he did not know if he would be able to make the daylong interviews work, but he said it might be more important for some version of the Search Committee to follow a more compressed schedule than to preserve the same group that convened last summer and fall.
"I think we've got to pick the process to get the best results and then find people who can work in the process," Gura said. "If that means you have to sub me out, do that. The goal here is bigger than any of the individuals on this call."
Daley reminded the committee that the town is "under the gun" to find a new town manager with the contract of interim Town Manager Charlie Blanchard expiring this spring.
The committee reached no decision on Tuesday night for steps after March 22, but members were promised they would see an electronic "Doodle" poll to determine what dates and times the panel could offer candidates.
Szymborski told the committee Tuesday that the town was seeing significantly less response to its current call for candidates than it did in the summer and fall. Last time around, Williamstown received four dozen "expressions of interest" in response to its advertising. This time, it has received just a dozen, though headhunters Szymborski and Michael Jaillet are trying to recruit a couple more candidates for that pool.
"I think that's indicative of the job market today," Szymborski said.
Reifsnyder noted that it also is indicative of the fact that candidates who applied last year might be disinclined to try again.
"That's a factor, too," Szymborski said. "Never mind people … as they're noodling it around, they're doing their research and reading the articles [about the October process]. That's a point to underscore as well."
Szymborski said the town has worked to make its job posting more attractive this time around by raising the starting salary. Daley and Patton noted that the town hopes to secure a regional grant with Adams and North Adams to hire a human resources professional, a move that would lessen some of the load for the next town manager.
The Search Committee spent much of Tuesday's session talking about what worked and did not work in last year's process. The members expressing an opinion one way or another agreed that they hope this year's interviews can be conducted in person, and they discussed ways to structure the interviews for more natural give-and-take between the committee and candidates.
Reifsnyder used the forum to express her frustration about the Select Board's decision not to offer the town manager post to either of the candidates the Search Committee advanced.
"Obviously, I had a preference for one over the other, but it was clear to me that we sent two qualified candidates," she said. "It felt disrespectful to the hours we put in to have them rejected because they were looking for a 'unicorn,' apparently. We were looking for a town manager capable of running the town, and either of those people could have done it."
Patton said she would "forever regret" using the term unicorn in the context of the town manager deliberations but reiterated that each of last October's candidates had strengths that the Select Board would have liked to see in one candidate.
"What became apparent to me over the course of the process [was that] finding someone who had strong operational, financial, town management experience and background and someone who had what we were looking for in terms of [diversity, equity and inclusion] and HR, etc., is not something that has been cultivated in the HR universe," Patton said.
Gura echoed the point.
"Obviously, and for good reasons, there's a DEI focus, but people who are working as town managers started working before the concept existed," he said.
Daley offered his synopsis of the feedback the Select Board provided after last year's process.
"The board wants somebody who can manage processes," Daley said. "They don't have to be experts in any of them, but they need to keep multiple processes going.
"As [Patton] noted, if the town is able to source HR and DEI regionally in the way we're proposing, that doesn't mean the town manager doesn't have to deal with HR and DEI. It means that person needs to manage that process and work in support of it."
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