Field narrows for town administrator
Town Council members are tightening ranks to temporarily withhold the announcement of a new town administrator when they choose one.
In recent weeks, several factors have combined to cause a little delay and a little flak about the process and schedule for naming the new official.
The committee lost one of its three finalists last week when former Newport City Manager James Smith announced that he had accepted an offer to become city manager of Washington, N.C. He was one of the three finalists named in a Providence Journal report last week that contained information from Jamestown Town Council President David Long. The timing of release of names of the finalists seemed contrary to the rules governing the disclosure of information from Town Council executive sessions.
This week Long said that the councilors did not know about Smith’s decision until after they reviewed the credentials of the finalists in a closed session. There has been speculation about the ranking of the finalists, but confirmation about their relative standings was not available.
Council colleagues and others questioned Long about his giving an unauthorized press report, which he acknowledged at a special meeting last Thursday, Dec. 1, to further discuss the finalists. Before going into executive session, which is not open to the public, Long said that he had been out of state several days and as soon as he returned home, he was asked about the identities of the three top candidates for town administrator. Long said he thought it had become common knowledge, so he confirmed their names.
When he discussed the situation with the other councilors, Long apologized for his role in revealing the still-privileged information. After the revelation, he said, he asked Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks if his releasing the candidates’ names was a violation of executive session rules. Long said he thought that Parks said it was not a violation.
Parks said in a telephone interview with the Jamestown Press that he did not say that it was not a violation. Parks said he told Long that it was “no big deal” that Long had revealed the executive session information. He cautioned Long to keep the final selection confidential until the contract negotiations were completed.
In addition to Smith, the finalists as of late November were Bruce Keiser, of Wakefield, director of administrative services for the town of South Kingstown and staff representative to the town’s Economic Development Committee, and Scott Dunn, who had been town manager for Ogunquit, Maine, from mid-2002 until last June. Dunn was town administrator for Stowe, Vt., for the previous two years. Published information about Dunn’s departure include reports that he would not renew his contract or even negotiate the possibility with Ogunquit and speculations about whether or not he initiated the separation or was locked out of renewal by the town. That town also underwent a dispute about continuation of services of its police chief.
That aspect might be considered notable because Jamestown’s previous administrator, Mark Haddad, came from a Massachusetts town where he and the police chief were involved in controversies. Haddad resigned his Jamestown position to take a private-sector job in Connecticut.
This week Long said, “We had three top candidates and I still say we have three top candidates.” He did not clarify if the fourth ranked applicant would be added for consideration at this point. It was believed that the councilors had ranked Dunn, Keiser, and Smith by consensus but had not taken a formal vote. At a special meeting set for tomorrow, Dec. 9, the councilors will again review their options for choosing a new town administrator.
Some delay in making a decision is the result of individual councilors not being available for meetings due to the holiday season, and because of the hospitalization last week of Councilman William Kelly for scheduled surgery.
Long said the council wanted to have comments from Kelly, at least by telephone, before they complete their selection and begin contract negotions with the chosen candidate. Long said he did not expect that a candidate would be named at the Dec. 12 meeting, and he could not predict when it would be possible.
The town received 53 applications for the position of town administrator by the deadline of Aug. 31. It also received a few after the deadline and those were not considered, according to Fred Pease, chairman of the Town Administrator Search Committee. In addition to Smith, at least two other applicants withdrew before November after accepting jobs elsewhere.
On Nov. 3, the search committee gave the Town Council its list of three recommended candidates. The presentation was made at a special council meeting during which the information was given in executive session.
Town officials had not revealed the names of the three finalists until last week, and they have not named the 50 applicants who have been eliminated.
Former Gov. Bruce Sundlun, 86, a Jamestown resident, identified himself as a candidate rejected for both the Jamestown and Coventry town manager jobs. Jamestown Town Planner Lisa Bryer was believed to have been a semi-finalist for the town’s top post, but that has not been confirmed.