By Jean Perry
Neighb News Correspondent
Fairhaven’s next town administrator will be found with the help of a professional hiring consultant and a search committee tasked with narrowing the field of candidates down to a few finalists. With so many stakeholders affected by the outcome of naming a new top dog at Town Hall, Community Paradigm Associates, LLC Founder/Director Bernie Lynch recommended a search committee comprised of a diverse group of individuals.
Back on 10/18, Mr. Lynch gave three tried and true screening committee options for the Selectboard to choose from. The option they chose was for one member from the Finance Committee, School Committee, and Planning Board, and each Selectboard member will be able to appoint one member of the community. The seventh member appointed would be a town employee. However, during the 11/10 meeting, Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas said he preferred to appoint himself to the committee instead of a member of the public, which was seconded by Selectboard member Keith Silvia and passed 2-1. Selectboard member Bob Espindola objected.
Mr. Freitas’s 11/10 self-appointment came one week after the regularly scheduled meeting when he up and left the meeting before the TA search discussion was through (see Neighb News 11/5/20 issue). This delayed the TA hiring process by another week because, despite Mr. Espindola’s reading aloud of the TA position recruitment statement slated for posting, Mr. Freitas refused to approve the final draft that was handed to him that night. He stuck to his principle that he would not take action on material that is handed to him during the meeting. When Mr. Espindola pressed him to review it, Mr. Freitas left the meeting abruptly.
The board approved the final TA position statement on 11/10, and then got to business on the search committee.
During the 11/10 meeting, Mr. Espindola said the town had used the same committee composition years ago when the town hired its first TA, Mark Rees. According to Mr. Espindola, that process was fair and equitable. He said that allowing the committee to screen the candidates and bring forth three finalists for the Selectboard to interview “worked well.”
He said on 10/18, “It’s an unfair advantage to have one [Selectboard member] have two bites at the apple. This town administrator position [does not] just serve us; they’re serving the entire community….” But during that meeting, Mr. Freitas expressed his desire to see one Selectboard member sit on the search committee.
On 11/10, Mr. Silvia supported Mr. Freitas’s idea, saying, “I feel as though I’d like to have someone … on the committee from the board.”
He said he did not agree with Mr. Espindola that doing so would mean one Selectboard member would be getting “two bites at the pie” — or whatever the metaphor that Mr. Espindola used.
“I kind of disagree with that because when it comes back in front of all three of us there’s still two people who — that didn’t have anything to do with that committee to make the decision and go against whoever,” said Mr. Silvia. “I just think that where we work with them so much, I think a person from the board would be good to be on.”
Reiterating what he said a few weeks ago, Mr. Espindola replied: “I do not believe that a selectman should sit on the search committee,” and he listed his reasons. “It does not place all three selectmen on a level playing field in what is the most important decision we will make as a board this year.”
If a Selectboard member is on the committee, Mr. Espindola continued, “As the consultant we hired explained, that selectman would have two bites at the apple. The other two would not.” Furthermore, he said, it also takes away from someone in the community to provide their input.
“And I believe that input from a diverse group of people from the community is a very healthy part of the process,” said Mr. Espindola. “The last time we did this, we went through this process and everything went really well.”
There was no Selectboard member on the committee, he continued, “And all three selectmen had an equal opportunity to choose the final candidate.”
The process was the fairest and best way for the community, he said. Still, if his fellow Selectboard members were adamant in their position, Mr. Espindola said, “I’d like to ask that the selectman who makes a motion include an explanation for why you feel the person you are nominating is the best suited of the selectmen to serve in that capacity.”
“I’ve said it before,” said Mr. Freitas. “I think that one of the selectmen should sit in on this part of the committee. I think that it’s a good idea to have this and go through as many steps as possible.”
In his opinion, he said, there may be candidates with questions along the way that a regular citizen or search committee appointee from the other elected committees and boards might not be able to provide, which a Selectboard member could.
“So, I am for that, and that’s where I sit on this right now,” said Mr. Freitas. “I will state that I do have an interest in this. So, I don’t know if anybody else has an interest in doing it, but I have an interest in it.”
Mr. Espindola then quickly made a motion to create a search committee sans Selectboard member, which was not seconded. Mr. Freitas then motioned to appoint himself to the committee, which Mr. Silvia promptly seconded.
“I wouldn’t mind it if it were myself, so I’d appoint myself,” said Mr. Freitas.
“I think it’s a good idea to have one on there and I also think that it’s good to have the [chairperson] because he’s going to work closely with [the new TA] setting agendas and everything. I think it’s good to get to really see how the person is that you work with,” said Mr. Silvia.
“I have no problem with it. I have no interest in it, so,” he added, punctuating it with a laugh.
The board voted 2-1 to appoint Mr. Freitas to the Town Administrator screening committee, with Mr. Espindola voting “no.”
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