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Selectmen Hire Collins Center In Search New Town Manager

Nov 07, 2019 10:07PM ● By Lisa Redmond

DRACUT – With a 120-day deadline looming under the Town Charter to have a new town manager in Dracut’s corner office, the Board of Selectmen on Thursday hired the Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management to manage the search process for a new town manager.

The fee for the Collins Center’s services is $8,000.

Several selectmen were on the board six years ago when the Collins Center was hired to help select former Town Manager Jim Duggan. Duggan resigned on Oct. 9 amid a swirl of criticism involving his mishandling of the town’s public bids and his ongoing battles with the police and fire department personnel.

Within days of Duggan’s resignation, the selectmen named Assistant Town Manager/Finance Director Ann Vandal as acting town manager.

Although the Feb. 17, 2020 deadline is tight, Mary Aicardi, a Collins Center associate, told the board that her group will work with the selectmen to create a town profile and a salary range to be incorporated into job advertisements with professional groups and associates both in Massachusetts and nationally.

At the time of his departure, Duggan was earning about $180,000 annually.

Aicardi said she expects a healthy number of applicants. “(Dracut) is an attractive town and its an attractive job. We won’t have any trouble getting people to apply,’’ she said.

After working with 280 of the 350 communities in the state, Aicardi said the Collins Center has fostered a broad network of contacts that it taps as part of its outreach.

Recruiting a candidate who is working as an assistant town manager is a logical choice. Although tight municipal budgets have reduced the pool of assistant town managers, there are still plenty of candidates, Aicardi said.

The skill sets of town planners and DPW directors can often be translated into a town manager’s position, she said. Someone from the private sector, who may serve on a town Finance Committee, could also be a good candidate.

“We are looking for a person with a wealth of experience working with municipalities,’’ she said.

The Collins Center will compile a “resume book’’ to be given to the selectmen’s Ad Hoc Screening Committee to sift through and select the three to five finalists to be recommended to selectmen for interviews. The timeline for the committee’s work is about five days.

“We advise the Search Committee not to Google the candidates,’’ Aicardi told the board. The information is sometimes false, but even so it can lead to a bias against a candidate.

The candidate names will not be made public until the finalists are interviewed by the selectmen.

Aicardi explained that the Collins Center has a vendor who performs a criminal background check on candidates at $350 per person. A criminal background check looks for convictions, not arrests. Bankruptcies and driving records are also checked.

The Collins Center does overall background checks on candidates by reviewing their credit history, verifying their educational background and checking references.

Even a town manager whose contract wasn’t renewed may be a viable candidate depending on the circumstances. “Politics happen,’’ she said.

With so much work to do and so little time, plus holidays, Selectman Chairman Jesse Forcier asked Town Council James Hall Sr. about the penalty if the 120-day deadline is not met.

“There is no penalty in the Charter,’’ Hall said.

Extending the 120-day charter deadline has been done before. The last search process, when Duggan was hired, was extended beyond the 120-day deadline by 10 to 15 days, he said.

There may be comments from the residents, he said, but there just has to be a show a “good faith’’ effort to choose the right candidate to silence critics.

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