Lisa Blackmer was first to be interviewed. She says she understands the needs of small communities and how to be effective in grants and state aid.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The two candidates for town administrator were each interviewed Monday as town officials seek to fill a post that's been empty all summer.
The Select Board interviewed finalists Lisa Blackmer, treasurer/tax collector in the town of Buckland, and Rebecca Stone, town administrator in Otis, and plan to pick one of the two Wednesday to replace former Town Administrator Carl McKinney who resigned in May.
Both candidates were given an hour time slot to be asked questions, however, neither candidate used the entire hour. They were asked a similar round of questions by the board and then the public who attended were invited to ask questions.
Blackmer, the first to be interviewed, pointed to her diverse experience in government as a city councilor, town administrator, and treasurer/tax collector.
"I have done this job and I have been on the elected side and I understand ... the balance that you have to play with responding to department heads while responding to the voters," said the former North Adams city councilor. "I have not just done one job, I have a diverse background so I can see things from many sides."
Blackmer said she is familiar with the workings of government and has connections at the state level through her previous positions (she was president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association). Her first charge would be to go after some grant opportunities — specifically the Community Compact technology grant and the state's small bridge and culvert program.
Like other communities in the area, Clarksburg has great infrastructure needs and faces issues that come along with a dwindling population, she said. She also saw the school as a problem to address — especially as it is one of the town's most important assets.
Blackmer said she believes in having a strong relationship with the schools and although she is not familiar with Clarksburg's town school structure, she is a quick learner. Through her time with North Adams, she does have some experience with the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
She has been involved in long-term planning in many of the communities that she has worked and served in and thought it was vital for a community.
"I have done some of it in practice and I have done some of it academically but you need to think long term," Blackmer said. "You can't just wait for something to break, then throw good money at bad things."
One concern the Select Board brought up a few times was Blackmer's desire to return to the North Adams City Council this coming election and possible conflicts of interest. Blackmer said she has already approached the state Ethics Commission and knows she cannot vote on items connected to the shared sewer between the two communities. She added that the two communities would not be competing for the same grants.
Blackmer said she also did not see an issue with prioritizing her town administrator position. She said she has good work management skills, is always available via cell phone, and lives only a few minutes away from Clarksburg.
She said she has the experience and the passion needed to be a good town administrator and wants to improve Clarksburg and Northern Berkshire County.
"I have the enthusiasm, the education, and the experience to do this job," Blackmer said. "I don't live in Clarksburg but I live in Northern Berkshire County and I know some of the issues you face ... I am going to get it done."
Rebecca Stone was the second interview. She says her passion is municipal government and she would work on the paring budget and attracting business.
Stone said she has a passion for municipal government.
"I did not mind working in the private sector but my passion is working for the towns and helping the public," she said.
Stone said she prides her self on being able to work with elected officials and department heads. She added that she is flexible and likes to work collectively.
She, too, said she has a lot of experience in the workings of government. She added that she has experience in grant writing and has written more than $5 million in grants and secured over $3 million.
Stone said she likes government to work efficiently and if she was given the position, she would look at town processes and try to streamline what she can. She added that she would also like to look at shared services with other communities.
As for the budget, she said she would like to go through line item by line item and make appropriate cuts to help reduce the tax rate.
"I would want to find where efficiencies can be made in the case of Clarksburg trying to pare back the budget and make things operate more efficiently to help reduce the tax rate," she said. "In Otis, we have one of the lowest tax rates in the state."
She said even the smallest of communities can benefit from business and she would like to compile a list of all local businesses and help form a group of business leaders in town. She said she wants to be able to market Clarksburg and attract more business and potential residents.
"Little by little a lot of these little towns are revitalizing and they are going through small steps to get back to seeing some small business come back," she said. "If you can see one storefront that is no longer empty, that goes a long way."
Stone admitted she did not have a lot of experience working with a school department but said it was important to her to meet with school leaders and sit in on some School Committee meetings to get up to speed. She said because the school represents over half of the town's budget, it is important for them to work together.
Stone said she is used to working in very small communities where she is capable of running a town by herself. She said she was excited by the opportunity to work with a staff and felt she could get a lot done in town with these resources.
The Select Board will meet next on Wednesday at 6 p.m.