Panel hopes to recommend a town administrator by next month
The Town Administrator Search Committee has notified more than 38 of the 53 applicants for the job that they are no longer being considered. The committee has not released any data about any candidates.
Former Gov. Bruce Sundlun announced his availability for the job in June, but late last month he announced that he had received letter from Jamestown that he no longer was on the active candidate list. Sundlun has since launched a determined effort to land a town manager’s job in Coventry that has been vacant for several months.
In Jamestown, the references of less than 15 candidates were still being scrutinized and interviews were still being scheduled. The local committee’s goal is to have a recommendation to the Town Council by its Nov. 14 meeting. Accordingly, the topic would have to be submitted by Nov. 8, to appear on that meeting’s agenda.
Minutes of the committee’s first five meetings, between Aug. 17 and Sept. 27, were submitted for this week’s council meeting. The committee also met Sept. 29 and Oct. 6, but the minutes for the Oct. 6 meeting have not yet been filed. Lenore DeLucia, committee vice chairwoman, said the completion goals are for midNovember if not sooner, but she was unwilling to discuss any more details other than to acknowledge that fewer (than 15) applicants are on the list of those being actively considered.
The committee minutes contain generic information only. Specific candidates were discussed in executive session, as state law provides for such discussions on personnel matters.
The Sept. 27 minutes noted that only 15 of the original 53 candidates were still in the running for the town’s top job. The Sept. 14 minutes said that a total of 33 were no longer being considered due to low scores based on a rating system the committee had devised. An additional five candidates were dropped in the next few weeks, and an unspecified number ruled out at the last two meetings. It could not be determined at what point Sundlun was eliminated.
The voting committee members are Chairman Fred Pease, DeLucia, Robert Dolan, Gary Girard, Peter Shocket, Robert Sutton and Tot Wright. Non-voting committee members are Town Clerk Arlene D. Petit and Personnel Board member Jeff Hunter.
The search committee agreed at its first meeting that it would follow the review process established a year ago to find a replacement for Maryanne Crawford, who resigned to accept a higher paying school administrative position in East Greenwich. The first committee chose Mark Haddad of Massachusetts, who resigned unexpectedly in June, he said, to accept an unsolicited higher-paying private-sector job in Connecticut.
At its second meeting, the committee discussed issues about rating personal friends or Jamestown residents who applied. Members agreed to treat all “equally and weigh factors evenly,” giving no special preference to anyone, according to the minutes.
The committee members were also concerned about recent legal action that said that residency no longer could be required for town employment. They decided to have candidates propose a plan for response to emergencies if they were not living in Jamestown. After a legal ruling, the committee later determined that they could recommend that the council try to negotiate residency, because they could not make it a condition of employment.
Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks told them that he would write an advisory for the council regarding the committee’s concerns about residency of the new town administrator. The town’s Home Rule Charter states that the town administrator must live on the island, but Parks has explained that a new state law overrides the local charter.
The minutes also stated that members discussed their concerns about the process and goals of background checks and the lists of five references submitted by each applicant. The minutes did not state the concerns or the decisions made about the process.
Coventry council members are battling among themselves over Sundlun’s late application in its search to replace its town manager, Francis Frobel, who resigned in April. Coventry’s Council President Frank Hyde was pushing for quick acceptance of Sundlun’s availability, but other councilors balked at being rushed.
About 20 to 25 applicants filed by the Sept. 16 deadline in Coventry. That town has a population of about 34,000. Jamestown has about 6,000 year round residents.
Coventry leaders acknowledge Sundlun’s credentials as the governor who guided the state through a major financial crisis, as a lawyer and as a businessman, but they question his demeanor and tactics that also stirred controversies and they question the wisdom of having a politician in a job intended for a professionally trained career worker.
Hyde and Sundlun gave contradictory reports about who initiated Sundlun’s application. Hyde said Sundlun asked about the job and Sundlun said Hyde called him in early July to apply. Sundlun said he declined at first, wanting to await the Jamestown decision. Once Sundlun heard from Jamestown, he brought his resume to Hyde on Oct. 2, and followed up with a detailed letter of application dated Oct. 10.
The Oct. 10 letter detailed his career and, referring to his age of 85, reported recent medical data about his good health. Sundlun wrote, “my intention is not a late in life capping my career but a serious effort to provide management for the town. . . . I believe I’m qualified and consider the opportunity a real challenge at a new level of government.”
He pledged to work co-operatively with the council and citizenry and he concluded his letter by emphasizing that he was not seeking “short cuts” in seeking the town manager job. He attached letters of reference from U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and four other state notable persons, all of whom intended their recommendations for either Jamestown or Coventry.
Sundlun expressed great dissatisfaction about Jamestown’s dismissal of his availability. “Congratulations on your service to the state and the nation. We regret we’ve decided to not grant you an interview,” Sundlun said the Jamestown committee wrote to him. “Even if they didn’t want me, they could have at least interviewed me. They didn’t even do that,” he added.
Sundlun, a Democrat, ran for governor twice, in 1986 and 1988, before being elected in 1990 and re-elected in 1992. He lost the primary for re-election in 1994. He moved to Jamestown last December. He is a decorated World War II Army Air Corps veteran,
Sundlun worked mainly as a lawyer from 1949 until 1970. In 1970, he took over Executive Jet when it had a few planes and led it until 1976. The company grew into NetJet with the world’s largest fleet, 520 planes. He then had a career with Providence’s Outlet Company. Started as a single retail store, Sundlun grew it over 12 years into 91 stores, and later into a company exclusively for communications with several radio and television outlets. From among 50 nominees, earlier this year he was named to the Hall of Fame of the University of Rhode Island’s College of Business Administration by a staff and alumni committee. He also has taught political science and state history for several years at URI, where he reigns as “governor in residence.”