Chairwoman Lily Kuzia and Selectman Jeffery Levanos quizzed three candidates for town administrator on Thursday night.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town officials began interviews with the first candidates for town administrator on Thursday evening.
Selectman Jeffrey Levanos and Chairwoman Lily Kuzia, working from a list of questions agreed upon shortly before the first interview, quizzed the three candidates on their experiences, aspirations and styles of management.
The town has received at least 15 applicants for the post, with retiring Town Administrator Thomas Webb sending on suitable candidates to the board. Three more are expected to be interviewed next week at a date yet to be posted. The interviews were open to the public.
The process has been far less contentious than two years ago, when the composition of a search committee came under fire for potentially being to pro — or to anti — one of the announced candidates.
Webb, currently taking his earned vacation time, will retire effective March 3. Administrative Assistant Debra Choquette is likely to step in as interim, a post she held two years ago as well.
Thursday's candidates were well grounded in municipal experience, with each pointing to their particular expertise. Two live in Western Massachusetts and a third in Plymouth, although his family roots are in Clarksburg.
All felt they had good command of Microsoft Office products and either had experience on other software or were more than capable of learning them. They all, also, felt they were able to prioritize their days and work with employees and town officials. They also spoke of some of the issues affecting Clarksburg, such as finances and infrastructure, to show they had familiarized themselves with the town's challenges.
The first candidate was Mark Pruhenski of Great Barrington, currently health director and agent for the town of Great Barrington and president of the Berkshire County Boards of Health Association.
He is a graduate of State University of New York Empire State College, earning a degree in management, economics and public administration, and is currently pursuing a certificate in local government management and leadership at Suffolk University.
Pruhenski has worked for Great Barrington for nearly 9 years in several departments, including with the police and fire departments. He said he has liked working in Great Barrington but felt it was time to move up and that town officials were aware and supportive of his aspirations.
"I just have a great love for public administration," he told the Selectmen. Pruhenski said his varied experience in local government and educational pursuits and training, including in emergency management, were in preparation for advancement to a town administrative post. "It has been a professional goal for quite a long time now."
In answer to questions about his management style from Levanos, he said he was more coach than commander, and had learned from working with higher level administrators ranging from dictator to laid back.
Pruhenski said he has mediated "numerous conflicts between parties" successfully. "I've never had anybody at the end of a quarrel who did not feel I did not serve them well."
The second interview was with Craig Kleman of Greenfield, most recently town administrator of Becket. Kleman has a background in community development and grant writing, and studied strategic planning and resource allocation at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
"I think it would be a perfect opportunity to restart my career," Kleman said of Clarksburg, hoping to "match my skills with the needs of your community."
He has worked in public administrative roles, including several interim jobs, in a number of small towns in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, and also in community development in Manchester, N.H. Kleman's contract in Becket was not renewed in 2012, with reports at the time pointing to conflict within the town, with some blaming Kleman and others saying his efforts were being sabotaged. He said he believed part of the reason was a technology upgrade project at Town Hall that went far longer than planned because of infrastructure and other issues.
"People are very much looking for instant gratification," he said. "They looked at me like it was my fault."
Kleman said he would use the town's talents and special interests as a resources and that he was good on details as well as seeing the bigger picture. His project management skills and grants writing "are excellent," he said. "I can't promise I'll find them, but I'll look for [grants]."
As to management style, he said he was more coachlike. "You spend a lot of money to train people and keep them on board," he said, adding he expects employees to be able to do their jobs but is willing to help them learn.
The final candidate of the evening was John Sanguinet of Plymouth, most recently interim town administrator of Wareham, where he also had been assistant town administrator for three years.
Sanguinet also worked in Truro and Billerica as an assistant town administrator and 14 years with the state Department of Revenue. He holds a master's degree in public administration from Northeastern University.
He said he was very excited to see the posting for Clarksburg since his family is from the area and his grandfather, Charles Robert Sanguinet, is named on the town's World War I honor roll.
"I love the idea and I love working in government and want to move forward," he said. While he has been out of work since Wareham passed him over for a permanent position, he said he has strong financial skills and was sure he could be recertified as a procurement officer.
He pointed to the draconian decisions he had made in Wareham that turned a $2 million deficit into $700,000 in free cash the next year. Responding to a question about his biggest mistake, he said it was relying on an outside source to investigate an employee. "If I had done my own investigation, I would have found out there were other factors before I disciplined the employee," he said, possibly referring to the firing of a Wareham police lieutenant who sued to get his job back.
He described himself as a "people person" with good communication skills and mix of commander and coach management styles. He does not get stressed out: "I deal with it by taking care of the issue presented to me."
Police Chief Michael Williams was directed to follow up on checking backgrounds and references.