BRATTLEBORO -- The Selectboard decided to reopen the town manager search after failing to come to terms with its top choice, Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein said Monday.
After giving only a short statement at last week's Selectboard meeting, Gartenstein offered more details on the board's decision not to negotiate with more of the 62 candidates who sent in applications for the job.
Former town manager Barbara Sondag announced her resignation in June and the board opened a nationwide search to fill the open post.
After going through the applications, and an initial round of telephone interviews with seven candidates, two candidates were ultimately brought to town for the second round of interviews. The Selectboard, a committee made up of town employees and a four-member citizens committee, met with the top two candidates in Brattleboro during October. After the extensive interview process was complete Gartenstein said the Selectboard authorized him to negotiate with, and make an offer to, the top candidate but the two sides were not able to reach an agreement.
The town was offering a salary in the range of $75,000 to $90,000, according to the VLCT ad, and Gartenstein said after meeting with the top candidate they were not able to reach a deal.
"We negotiated with the candidate about economic issues, including pay, benefits and relocation costs, and ultimately the candidate decided not to take employment here," Gartenstein said. "The benefits and relocation compensation the candidate wanted was in excess of the advertised range."
After talks with the top candidate broke down, Gartenstein said the Selectboard met in executive session and the members agreed not to negotiate with the other applicant who traveled to town for the interview, but rather to reopen the search process. He said throughout the process the Selectboard has been working together and agreeing on the strategy.
"The second candidate had extensive municipal experience but the board decided it wanted to reopen the search process and not make an offer to him," Gartenstein said. "There has been some suggestion that the board was not able to reach an agreement, but the board has functioned efficiently and worked hard going through the applications and handling all relative information."
Gartenstein also said Monday that the members of the Citizens Committee recommended after their interviews that the town not make an offer to either of the candidates and reopen the search.
The Citizens Committee, which included committee Chairman Jeff Lewis, Jerry Goldberg, Spoon Agave and Rhonda Calhoun, was appointed to meet with the candidates and pose their own questions. The Citizens Committee was then asked to rate each candidate and make a recommendation to the Selectboard.
"We all thought that it was an interesting experience. We shared our impression that they take a little more time and it must have had some kind of an effect because they took note of what we said," Lewis said. "I think it's important to have a citizens committee. You have some effect. It is a very small amount, but you do have some effect. It is worth doing because it gives the town's people a voice in this hiring, which I think is a very critical one for the town."
While declining to go into any of the personal details of the candidates, and stressing that the Selectboard has not made any decision about the path forward, Gartenstein was clear that the board has been completely satisfied with the work of interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland.
Moreland has been taking on the town manager's responsibilities during one of the busiest times of the year, as the board and the town staff hammer out a budget, and Gartenstein said the board felt no need to rush the process or make an offer to a candidate who might not be the right fit for the town.
"The Selectboard feels at this time, given the work Patrick is doing, there is no immediate urgency to hire another town manager and that we have time to reopen the search," Gartenstein said. "Patrick is working very hard and has done a very good job representing the interests of the town and overseeing town services and finances in his position as interim town manager."
Moreland said after Sondag resigned that he was not interested in the job at the time and he did not apply for the open town manager position. When he accepted the role of interim town manager his salary was increased from $64,155 to $66,085.
Moreland said he has not decided if he will apply during the next round, though he said his time on the job and the first round experience have had an effect on his decision process.
"It's only natural that I would reconsider my position given the fact that the first search was not productive," Moreland said Monday. "The pace of this job is something you have to get used to, but it's been enjoyable. I have not yet come to a conclusion. I'll have to see what happens when they put the search back out and see if I want to participate. By the time the board announces its next step in the search process I will make it clear whether I am in or out. It is something I am considering at this time."
The town spent about $4,800 on the search process, and Finance Director John O'Connor said he has not seen any other funding compensation requests related to the search, such as airfare, hotels or even mileage reimbursement.
At the Nov. 19 Selectboard meeting Gartenstein said the board would start a new search in "two to four to six to eight weeks."
Gartenstein made his remarks about the town manager search during his Chairman's Comments period at the beginning of the Selectboard meeting Tuesday.
At the meeting he gave a short recap of the town's process leading up to the final two interviews and then said, "The search was ultimately unsuccessful. We have not reached an agreement with either of those finalist candidates to have them come on as town manager. After a five or six month search process the Selectboard decided in executive session last week to reopen the search."
"At the Selectboard meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 19, I only provided limited information about the town manager search and outcome because it is an ongoing personnel and contractual matter," Gartenstein said Monday. "I understand there has been speculation about that process and its outcome and so I want to provide additional information as requested."
The board will most likely use VLCT again to conduct the manager search, and Gartenstein said the board will probably also name another citizen committee to help with the next round of interviews.
"We expect that people who apply for a position like this depends on the time frame of when the job is posted, and we anticipate the process will unfold, after we decide to relist the position, in much the same way it did over the last six months," said Gartenstein. "The decision has not been made when to reopen the search. We've got some heavy lifting to do in response to the budget and we feel that there is not an immediate urgency."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.