March 13 2018

Selectmen Decide to Start New Town Administrator Search with Internal Candidates First

By: Rich Hosford

The Board of Selectmen voted to start the search for a new Town Administrator internally during the meeting on Monday night.


Current Town Administrator John Petrin announced recently that he will be retiring in early or mid 2019 depending on how the search for his replacement pans out. To help prepare the board for the process of finding new candidates to fill his role he wrote up a plan and schedule to act as a guide.


During the meeting he explained the plan would cover an internal search, an external search and a scenario mixing both an internal and an external search.


“You can do an internal search first, and then, if you wish, go to external,” Petrin said. “If you decide to go external you’ll want to start by August and I recommend hiring a consultant.”


To pay for the consultant fees he suggested the board place a warrant article before Town Meeting for $15,000 in the upcoming May session. He said this should be done now, even if the board wants to do an internal search first, so that the funds are available if they change their minds or no internal candidate comes forward or matches the needs of the town.


Board Chairman Chris Hartling said he was comfortable starting with an internal search but said that if it did come to an external one he would be more comfortable with some more funds for the search. He recommended the board ask for $20,000 in order to be sure there were sufficient consulting fees available.


Petrin said that might be a good idea. He noted that across the state there are a lot of retirements among town administrators and town managers and that might make it harder to find the best candidates.


“There is a lot of movement which makes the candidate pools difficult to some extent,” he said. “Some communities are going out for a second time.”


He added that Burlington will be an attractive location for most candidates.


“It is a great community and the opportunity is there to get a great candidate,” he said. “People take pride in working here. Every meeting I talk about our people being the best and I don’t just say that, I believe it’s true.”


Still, he added that applying for a new position carries some risk in the world of town administrators and town managers. The right consulting firm, therefore, is necessary.


“The change needs to be in the interest of both parties, not just the town selecting the candidate but also for the candidate choosing the town,” he said. “Remember, that candidates are known by everybody. Those who don’t get selected have to go back to their town and that can be a difficult situation.”


It was for this reason he suggested either doing an internal search or an external one but not a mixed search. He said top candidates would see that someone from within the town government was in the running and likely not apply for fear the internal employee would have a step up.


“If you have an internal candidate and mix it with an outside process you will limit the number who will apply,” he said. “Most will be leery of joining the process if they think an internal candidate would have an advantage.”


In the end the board voted to start with an internal search and to take up a vote at a later meeting for a warrant article asking for the consulting funds in case the internal search doesn’t come up with a qualified candidate. An internal notice was set to go out on Tuesday to all department heads alerting them to the open position.


Finally, Petrin said he would stay as late as June of 2019 to ensure a smooth transition. His contract would allow him to leave as early as February but he said he would stay later if necessary.


“As you’re aware I could go next February but said I will be willing to stay until June if that’s what’s best for the community,” he said.


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