Deerfield’s Search for a Town Administrator: The Best Solution is to Hire An Assistant and Promote Kayce Warren

I must admit, I sympathize with the Deerfield Selectboard in their quest to find a new Town Administrator. I attended a meeting a month back and they had three candidates to be interviewed. To me, it was clear that one guy stood above the rest, but after deliberating, the board felt completely differently. They are limited in how much conversation and meetings they are allowed to have between them because of open meeting laws, so they hadn’t really gotten that much time to talk about the three finalists.

Even though I thought Mike Bissonnette was a great choice, after spending an hour on Wednesday talking to Carolyn Shores Ness, Mark Gilmore and David Wolfram, I understand their hesitation. Wolfram was the most articulate–he said simply that Deerfield is a small town, and the $14 million a year budget is not a big sum, but in the position of Town Manager, there is really no one to dish tasks off to. The administrator has to do everything. This, they explained, would be hard for men like Bissonnette who ran Chicopee, a city of 59,000, with lots of back up staff and assistance. In Deerfield, the job as defined by statute is not really as much of a Town Manager as an Administrator, a clerk. The other candidate, George Zimmerman, has been a treasurer, not a town manager.

The three were interested in young Andrew Golas from Palmer, yet afraid his youth would be too much of a learning curve. One suggestion was made that they put the interim town administrator, Kayce Warren, in as the administrator and try to hire Andrew as her assistant. I’m not sure he’d go for this but I think it’s a interesting idea. The point they made is that Warren has been there for 15 years–she probably is the best candidate, even though she wasn’t chosen as a finalist by the search committee.

While I would like to see a Town Manager who can do great things for our town like build a bike path, fill the empty stores downtown, and find a buyer who wants to build something nice in the Pickle factory space, the job isn’t really set up that way. The previous Town Administrator ruffled a lot of feathers by trying to act more like a manager, and though it has been recommended that the job have more power and more authority, it doesn’t.

The meeting got a bit tense when Mark Gilmore began talking about how he wished somebody would provide a list of the duties of the job that are difficult to finish, and to know more about what doesn’t get done due to time. There was also some tension about Gilmore’s proposal to go out and talk about the job and do his own interviews. This was stopped quick by Ness who said it doesn’t work that way. But I came away feeling like they are in a difficult spot…and I think if I were them I’d go for the idea of hiring an assistant and put Kayce Warren in as the new administrator.