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Area towns seek top managers

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / December 1, 2011
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While continuing to grapple with economic challenges, five area towns face the more immediate task of choosing their top managers.

Nahant selectmen tonight are poised to choose between two remaining finalists to replace the longtime town administrator, Mark Cullinan, who is retiring.

Ipswich has begun the search for a new town manager, while Burlington, Marblehead, and Swampscott are seeking new town administrators.

Two other towns recently wrapped up their searches. North Andover chose Swampscott’s town administrator, Andrew Maylor, to serve as its next town manager, while Winchester chose Mayor Richard C. Howard of Malden to take over its town manager post.

The outcome of the Nahant search will probably result in one more vacancy in the area’s town management ranks. The two remaining finalists are Andrew Bisignani, the Saugus town manager, and Jeff Chelgren, town administrator in Wenham.

Lainey Titus, chairwoman of the Nahant Board of Selectmen, said whoever replaces Cullinan will have “big shoes to fill.’’

Cullinan was first appointed in 1995, and is essentially the only person to hold the job of town administrator since it was created. His predecessor had a relatively short tenure.

“He’s done such a great job. . . . The town is run very well and I think that is a credit to him,’’ Titus said.

Cullinan officially retired Nov. 4, but because the search was taking longer than anticipated, he agreed to remain on part time through the end of the year.

The search in Marblehead is to succeed Anthony Sasso, who is retiring in May.

Jackie Belf-Becker, Board of Selectmen chairwoman, said a consulting firm was hired in September to help with the search, and the board recently appointed a screening committee. She said the board would like to have the new administrator in place before May.

Sasso, town administrator since 1994, is the only person to hold the job since it was established in Marblehead.

“He’s a unique individual with a myriad of talents,’’ Belf-Becker said. “We can’t replace Tony. We need to find someone who is capable and excellent in his or her own right.’’

The Swampscott Board of Selectmen recently appointed a search committee to assist with the selection of a successor to Maylor, who is resigning effective Dec 23 to assume his new job. The board chose town accountant Dave Castellarin to serve as acting town administrator, according to board chairman Matt Strauss.

Like Sasso in Marblehead, Maylor is the only person to hold Swampscott’s town administrator job. He has held the post since 2002.

“Prior to him, it was just the selectmen that ran the town,’’ Strauss said. “It’s been very much a culture change in the way the town was run. He’s done a fantastic job, so to replace him is going to be a difficult task, but I’m sure there are a lot of qualified candidates out there.’’

Robert T. Markel, the former mayor of Springfield who has held the town manager’s job in Ipswich since early 2005, announced recently he is resigning effective Dec. 31 to become town manager in Kittery, Maine.

Raymond Morley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he believed part of Markel’s decision stemmed from the harsh treatment he has received from “a very small vocal minority in the community’’ unhappy with decisions made by selectmen and Town Meeting relating to the Recreation Department and a proposed second wind turbine.

“Mr. Markel is a wonderful man who has kept the town financially on an even keel,’’ Morley said. “He has helped us to identify opportunities for additional income without raising taxes. He’s a gentleman and very quietly he gets things done,’’

Markel said the contention in Ipswich was a factor in his decision.

“We’ve had a pretty bruising few months here since this summer. I think it’s important that some of the divisions in the community be addressed and I think it would be helpful for someone else to step in and try to address that.’’

Morley said selectmen are seeking an interim town manager even as they prepare to advertise for the permanent position. He said selectmen will likely hire a consultant to assist them in selecting finalists.

The board hopes to have a new manager in place by April.

In Burlington, Town Administrator Robert Mercier announced in October that he is retiring at the end of May. Mercier has been Burlington’s town administrator since 1999 after previously holding the position from 1980-86, according to Joanne Faust, the town’s human resources director.

Faust said the town recently issued a request for proposals for a consultant to assist with the search process.

She said selectmen expect to advertise for the administrator’s job in January, with the hope of having whoever is selected in place by mid-May.

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