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Williamstown Town Manager Search Committee Aims to Select Interviewees This Week

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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The Town Manager Search Advisory Committee meets with Michael Jaillet of GovHR (middle row, right) last week via Zoom.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Town Manager Search Advisory Committee plans this week to select candidates for an initial round of interviews.
Last week, the advisory group began hammering out the kinds of questions it wants to ask, a process that co-chair Hugh Daley said he wants to complete at the committee's Tuesday meeting.
Two days later the committee will choose interviewees from a list of applicants pre-screened by head-hunting firm GovHR.
Daley said he hopes the search panel can wrap up its interviews — which will be conducted in private — and decide on a short-list of two to four candidates to recommend to the Select Board as soon as Friday, Oct. 8.
Time is of the essence — both because the town has been without a permanent town manager since the spring and because the candidate pool is drying up, the committee was told at its Sept. 21 meeting.
"We had 15 [candidates], and we're down to 10, mostly because people are accepting other positions," GovHR's Michael Jaillet said. "I started out on another [municipality's] search with 14, and I'm down to eight.
"My advice is: Let's keep the process moving quickly."
To that end, Daley presented his colleagues with a list of more than 30 potential questions that the town has asked in past selection processes with the hope of getting down to around a dozen that could reasonably be asked in an hourlong interview.
The committee members agreed that hyper-specificity in questioning could get in the way of eliciting thoughtful answers from the candidates.
"We cannot ask everything that relates to the job of a town manager," Ngonidzashe Munemo said. "This list, as we go through it is: Here are all the things a town manager does. Even if we had infinite time, I don't think any serious candidate would sit through all of the questions.
"Maybe it's a moment to go back ourselves to the position description we sent out and have questions that align with the priorities and not this long, endless list of stuff because I don't think it's going to get useful information from candidates — certainly not in an hour."
Abigail Reifsnyder agreed, suggesting that the committee frame its questions around some of the broad themes that came out in a survey of community members that the search committee conducted this summer: financial management, transparency, leadership skills and work on diversity, equity and inclusion.
"Myself and many members of our community would be interested in the experience our candidates have had in promoting diversity and inclusivity in the town workforce," Jose Constantine said. "And could they articulate why the values of diversity and inclusivity are important."
Melissa Cragg, who chairs the town's Finance Committee, said she felt that the search committee could not cover even the financial management issues alone in an hour with each candidate. She asked if the committee could solicit from candidates samples of budgets they've worked on in the past or Powerpoint presentations they've used to present budgets to get a sense of how candidates thought about those concerns.
Jaillet recommended that the search committee ask questions related to finances and ask the candidates to submit a page or two of written responses on the topic.
Daniel Gura suggested that the question could be framed as a hypothetical to get at the candidates' thought processes.
"One question I'd suggest is what the town manager has to answer for us every year: What are the steps you'd take in starting your budgeting process," Gura said. "I'm just making this up. Or, we could say, 'We're considering doing a bond financing, what are the things you'd think about to start with that process.' I think there are real world questions we could ask without making them too specific."
Andrew Art, who recently joined the search committee as a representative from the town's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee (an appointment set to be confirmed by the Select Board on Monday night), suggested the candidates be asked to read and respond to a human resources audit commissioned by the town this year.
Daley asked whether it was reasonable to expect candidates in a first round of interviews to be conversant in a 91-page audit report.
"I feel like we're operating in a market where, if we said to someone, 'We want you to take three standardized tests to apply for this job,' they'd say, 'You know what? I have three other offers,' " Daley said. "Is that the market we're in, Mike?"
The GovHR consultant answered that the town can run a risk of being too demanding of applicants at this stage of the process.
"You have a situation where people are applying for a lot of jobs, and a lot of them have jobs they're doing as well," Jaillet said. "Depending on how much they want to come here, you might be losing candidates if you ask them too much."
Art responded that the next town manager will be expected to implement changes based on the audit from Andover's Human Resources Services, so it might be helpful to know how they react to some of the recommendations in it.
Daley said he would prepare a new draft of questions based on the committee's input for its Tuesday meeting, when he hopes to nail down a final list of questions to be used in the interviews.
Once the search committee votes on its list of finalists to recommend, GovHR will confirm that the candidates are interested in moving on to the second round, where they would be publicly interviewed by the Select Board.
The board is aiming to complete its interviews and offer the position in time to have a town manager in place to work on the fiscal year 2023 budget.

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