Town admin discussion continues

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ARLINGTON — The Select Board plans to hold a joint meeting with its Town Administrator Advisory Search Committee as it continues to mull over the appropriate salary and other terms of employment for the still-unfilled position.

At a regular meeting on Monday night, the board again discussed whether the town administrator post, which residents voted last March to establish, should be a part- or full-time position. Board members, along with two members of the public in attendance, debated the issue for about an hour but did not make a definitive decision, instead agreeing to hold a publicly warned meeting with the search committee at an unspecified date in the near future to iron out details.

On Jan. 13, at a previous meeting, the board disclosed that a round of interviews conducted by the search committee did not result in the selection of any applicant for the position. Selectman Matthew Bykowski, one of two town officials on the committee, said the part-time caveat caused the town to lose out on three "extremely qualified" candidates.

Bykowski said Monday that he continues to believe that, based on the advertised job description and his perspective as a relatively new board member, there's ample work for a full-time administrator to tackle. "I think we're doing Arlington a disservice by not hiring somebody at full time," he said.

"Do we want an ordinary candidate or an extraordinary candidate?" Bykowski said. "What's the difference? Maybe it's just that little extra."

But state Rep. Cynthia Browning — echoing Select Board Chairman Keith Squires, who at the Jan. 13 meeting said he did not think the administrator position necessitated a full-time commitment — said Monday that she was "not convinced that there is sufficient, real and pressing work" for a full-time administrator and that she would prefer to see the position "start at something less than 40 hours a week and build up as we need it."

Browning also raised concern about the prospective budgetary impact of a full-time administrator. "I want to be very deliberate and careful about what I ask the voters to pay for — because I think this is a big step," she said.

Two residents who have advocated for the creation of the position, Todd Wilkins, who chaired the Arlington Area Renewal Project's governance committee, and Don Keelan, a retired certified public accountant, argued in favor of the full-time option at the Jan. 27 meeting.

"Someone that's going to actually do a good job for this community is not looking for part-time work," Wilkins said. "This is a salaried position. If you look at any community out there that has a town administrator, they are salaried, not hourly."

Wilkins, who this year is challenging Squires for a three-year term on the board, said that running "the town the way it is currently run" might not amount to a full-time job, "but if you truly want to move Arlington forward into the current century we are in, and above and beyond, you need to look to hire someone at a more reasonable salary that is — in my opinion, only — a full-time position."

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A town administrator could seek and manage grants for the Arlington Area Renewal Project's housing initiative and potential future wastewater treatment-related projects, Wilkins said.

The town might be able to trim certain areas of its next budget, which the board has yet to adopt, to account for the full-time salary, he added.

The town's draft budget for 2020 includes $50,000 for a part-time town administrator who would not receive health care or other benefits. In meetings this month, the board has floated the prospect of allocating about $70,000 to $80,000 to pay for a full-time position, including benefits.

The board had anticipated selecting a candidate by Nov. 1 for a hiring in January. The town will need to re-advertise the position, Bykowski has said, and the committee's consensus is that it should be a full-time job.

The $50,000 amount may be sufficient to cover a full-time position this year, given that it may be months before a town administrator is hired, board members said Monday.

The advertised job description stated that the part-time town administrator's main duties would "include carrying out Board directives and initiatives, acting as a liaison with state agencies and local boards, and keeping up to date on legislative and compliance matters." A public-administration or business-management degree, or equivalent experience, was listed as an essential qualification. At least two applicants last round held master's degrees, Bykowski said Monday.

Arlington residents voted 391 to 114 by Australian ballot last year to establish the position, the Journal previously reported. The ballot article did not specify the position's hourly demands or cost.

Keelan cited the "overwhelming" nature of the vote in support of the administrator position's creation to encourage the board to make it a full-time post.

"My feeling is, you've got the support of this town," he said. "Run with it."

If the vote last March were closer — say, 51 to 49 percent — "I would say, 'O.K., you've got to be cautious,'" Keelan said.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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