Milton selectmen interviewed the four candidates for Town Administrator Monday, and said they hoped to make a final decision by March 7.
Candidates included Milton interim Town Administrator Annmarie Fagan; Great Barrington Town Manager Kevin O’Donnell; former Narragansett, R.I., Town Manager Grady Miller; and former Londonderry, N.H., Town Manager David Caron.
Fagan was conspicuous among the candidates both for her far greater familiarity with Milton and for her lesser education – she lacks a bachelor’s degree. She has worked for the town for 18 years, 13 of which were as assistant town administrator.
Fagan has been serving as interim town administrator for seven months, since selectmen voted not to approve Kevin Mearn’s contract last summer. It is the third time Fagan has stepped into the town administrator position on a temporary basis.
Selectmen allowed each candidate to provide an opening statement, then each asked candidate the same three questions. Candidates were then allowed time to give a closing statement.
Each interview took about 45 minutes, except for Fagan’s, which lasted 30 minutes.
O’Donnell emphasized his experience as a career town manager and administrator, particularly with regards to collective bargaining agreements.
Selectmen Tom Hurley informed each candidate that labor contracts were often done in Milton without the assistance of an attorney, unless one of the town’s seven unions brought an attorney to the table.
“I may be one of the few town administrators to say I love labor negotiations,” O’Donnell said, adding that his style was to be honest with labor negotiators. “We’ve opened our books in Great Barrington.”
O’Donnell said he was attracted to the position because of its proximity to the Boston metro area. Selectmen in Great Barrington did not renew O’Donnell’s contract, so he is looking for another job.
In response to a question from selectmen Denis Keohane about a decision he regreted, O’Donnell spoke about the rift with Great Barrington selectmen that led to the nonrenewal.
“I had a new board elected in Great Barrington; they were inexperienced from a political perspective,” O’Donnell said. “They rated themselves a bit dysfunctional.”
O’Donnell explained that board members were not communicating with one another well and the chairman had not made time to meet with him.
Miller, another experienced town manager, had not previously worked in Massachusetts, but demonstrated understanding of local laws and Milton’s specific situation as a town.
Answering a question from selectman Robert Sweeney about the character traits he possessed to succeed as Milton’s town administrator, Miller emphasized his interpersonal skills and ability to communicate.
Miller answered one of Hurley’s questions about Milton’s structural budget deficits stating that he knew Milton had been level funding and looking into alternative energy projects such as wind to offset costs.
“I can tell you that the key is trying to find revenue sources,” Miller said.
Miller’s experience working as assistant to the town manager in Peoria, Ariz., was one in which the city grew from 50,000 to 160,000 over the course of seven years. In that environment, Miller was able to depend on growth for additional revenue, but services had to grow quickly, as well, he said.
Like O’Donnell, Miller was relieved of his most recent position in Narragansett, also stating that the governing board’s inexperience and communication breakdowns led to his termination.
Caron said his experience in Londonderry matched up with Milton nicely, as the towns were similarly sized with roughly the same budgets.
Caron worked in Londonderry for 10 years before resigning following a family medical emergency. The town had 175 employees and seven unions, the same number of unions as Milton.
Hurley asked Caron about strategic planning, to which Caron responded that a Master Plan process would be an important first step. Milton has been working to get community input in an update to its Master Plan.
The selectmen would also have to establish goals and objectives, allowing the administration to understand what priorities are, Caron said. He added that special funds would be pivotal to a strategic plan, with an overall goal of eliminating surprises.
Caron’s closing statement was brief, and he instead used the time to ask selectmen what they thought were the main issues the town faced. Selectmen named traffic, affordable housing, fire facility replacement, collective bargaining, and a lack of commercial development.
Fagan was warmly welcomed by the board, and many of the questions selectmen asked the other candidates they already knew Fagan’s answers. For instance, Sweeney’s question about whether a candidate would live in Milton Fagan gladly answered in the affirmative.
“My children were born here and I’ve been active in the community,” Fagan said, adding she had lived in Milton for 35 years. “Maybe at some point I’ll move to Fuller Village,” a reference to assisted living in Milton.
Selectmen asked Fagan a few additional questions, including whether she would complete her bachelor’s degree, which only requires a single semester and whether she thought she was tough enough to stand up to other department heads.
Keohane mentioned that Fagan would be the first woman town administrator in Milton and that he has been pleased with her work as interim administrator.
“I’m the father of three daughters and there is not a day that goes by when I don’t talk to them about being tough and courageous and being confident in what most people would know as a man’s world,” Keohane said.
Fagan responded she had grown up in a family of 10 children and had seven brothers.
“I’m not afraid to make the tough decisions,” Fagan said.
Fagan thanked the department heads for their cooperation during the seven months she had served as interim administrator and thanked selectmen for considering her for the position.
Selectmen will discuss the candidate interviews at their meeting on Thursday, Feb. 28, and hope to make a decision by the following week.