CHESHIRE, Mass. — The entire Board of Selectmen will review the administrative assistant applicant pool and hold a later discussion on hiring policy.
The Selectmen agreed to nix their administrative assistant screening committee Tuesday and take up the matter on their own in the coming weeks.
"Let's just move forward, and we can learn from our mistakes and come up with a policy," Selectman Mark Biagini said. "... I think this needs to be open and everybody that wants to be able to listen in should be able to."
The Selectmen need to replace longtime Administrative Assistant Carole Hildebrand who has retired. There is urgency in the hiring because Hildebrand was responsible for taking meeting minutes.
The plan was for the screening committee, composed of the town treasurer, Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV, and Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi, to interview five semi-finalist candidates this Thursday. This was not intended to be a public meeting.
Now at the next scheduled meeting, the Selectmen will review the 11 or so applications in their entirety themselves.
The conversation bookended the meeting and some selectmen initially felt blindsided by the process. Selectman Ron DeAngelis said he at least wanted the process brought before the board before acted upon.
"These decisions that we have to make are just blowing by us," DeAngelis said. "It is happening more and more. This should have been brought to a meeting."
St. John said he felt the process had been discussed multiple times, including most recently in a workshop. He did say he was willing to do whatever the board wanted, he just needed a specific direction.
"Whatever guidance the board would like to give," he said. "That would be helpful to me. I am certainly not trying to go around you. We can certainly put the pause button on this."
Some board members felt because the position was a public position and one that dealt directly with the board, that they should have a chance to see all of the applications.
Selectman Robert Ciskowski specifically said he thought it was the Selectmen's job to be more thorough.
"What are we elected here for?" he asked. "That is why we are a diverse board of five. Why just have one select person screening for us?"
St. John said this would create a quorum, which would mean the screening meeting would have to be public. This would mean the applicants would not be kept private..
Ciskowski did not think this was an issue and said this the gamble one takes, especially when applying for a public position.
"What is the bugaboo about having the applications in public?" he asked. "Are we going to put up a hierarchy of their privacy above our sworn duty of how selectmen work in Massachusetts?"
The selectmen were split on considering applicants' privacy, and it was felt that some applicants may pull their name from the pool
St. John said he was hesitant to send all the applications out via email for the selectmen to review. He saw the potential of a violation of Open Meeting Law. He said discussion could not take place between board members via email and felt sending out applications and asking for feedback through email could lead to a de facto vote.
Ciskowski asked if the selectmen could then just look at the applications at a public meeting. He said this way there would be no question of transparency and noted that past iterations of the board have been accused of backroom appointments.
"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," he said.
Ciskowski added that by holding public screening meetings there would be a paper trail connected to the hiring.
St. John noted that some of the applicants the screening committee had already eliminated do not live in the area or are not qualified. He said he would have to inform the applicants that were scheduled for an interview Thursday that the selectmen now wish to do things differently.
The conversation then drifted around and the selectmen questioned how Hildebrand was hired and how other hirings have worked in the past. A general conversation about communication between the town administrator in the board arose and Ciskowksi noted that he thought both sides needed to do better.
There was a sense among the board that the Selectmen really had to solidify the hiring procedure in general, and it was noted that this procedure may very well be different for different positions.
In other business, St. John also gave a quick COVID-19 update and asked residents to remain vigilant as cases rise in the county and in town.
"This is always something that is on the top of my report," he said.
St.John said some cases in town trace back to reported cases at Hoosac Valley High School. He said the town has shared a communication with town employees reaffirming safe practices.
The Selectmen also will consider eliminating license renewal fees. Other communities have reduced or eliminated alcohol license renewal fees because many restaurants have had to close for part of the pandemic or throughout the entire pandemic.
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