New Clarksburg Board Begins Town Administrator Interviews

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The chair of the Select Board on Wednesday wasted no time addressing the elephant in the room with one of the town administrator candidates.
 
"What draws you to Clarksburg, given its current situation?" Danielle Luchi asked Florida Town Administrator Christine Dobbert.
 
Dobbert's answer likely heartened town officials.
 
"Its current situation," Dobbert replied. "I think I can help. I think I'm a strong managerial person, so having a strong town administrator along with a strong board, things could definitely be changed."
 
Luchi and newly elected Select Board member Jeffrey Levanos spent about an hour apiece with three candidates at the Community Center on Wednesday morning.
 
In addition to Dobbert, they met with former Town Administrator Carl McKinney and Jeffrey Roucoulet, the director of Pittsfield's Retired Senior Volunteer Program. After the meeting, Luchi said the board may meet with one more candidate before making a decision.
 
The recent turmoil in town government — including the abrupt resignations of two Select Board members, the town manager, accountant, treasurer and administrative assistants — was very much on the minds of the interviewers, who asked each candidate how he or she would go about rebuilding the team at Town Hall.
 
"I was doing some research [about Clarksburg], and fairly aware of the things going on and knew this wouldn't be easy," Roucoulet said. "Maybe it's a matter of looking outside the box. … Take finance, for example, if someone came from a smaller area or a smaller company but was very good at what they did, maybe that's somebody who is more important to get in the position rather than former treasurer of a larger city.
 
"Finding transferable skills to meet your biggest weaknesses is important."
 
McKinney and Dobbert each said filling vacancies would be a top priority.
 
"I think that's the number one issue facing the town," McKinney said. "Finances are important, but when you get your personnel house in order, the rest will flow from that.
 
"We had done several times, and it needs to be done with a much broader brush — a payroll evaluation to see what we are paying our employees versus towns in the region who are in direct competition with us for those employees. … The Franklin Regional Council of Governments has a really nice feature on their website detailing by job with [member towns'] hours and starting wage and a very detailed analysis.
 
"You have to be competitive."
 
Dobbert agreed with McKinney that getting Town Hall fully staffed will allow Clarksburg to move forward in a number of areas.
 
"You definitely need a treasurer/collector," she said. "The town administrator and the treasurer/collector should work together to get things caught up, day-to-day stuff. And then you have the budget."
 
She talked about her strategy for retention of employees in Florida, a town roughly half the population of Clarksburg.
 
"As an administrator, you have to be aware there are differences, people work differently," Dobbert said. "You have to work together to get it done.
 
"It might be a matter of having, every other Friday, lunch together. I've been known to do that with the highway guys. Stuff like that. Or you decide to have a small potluck lunch once a month. And telling people when they've done a good job over and over … and not being so quick to say, 'Oh my God, you totally screwed that up. What were you thinking?' "
 
Roucoulet, the first candidate in the hot seat, was asked how he approaches dealing with difficult situations involving residents who are not satisfied with RSVP's services.
 
"Transparency and education are the biggest components in working with people," he said. "There are lots of people who like government and lots of people who hate it. When people come in with expectations that the city works for them — which it does, but there's a give and take to it — you have to provide educated explanations for the reasons why we do things.
 
"With our service, there are limitations — federal limitations, state limitations, city limitations. You explain to people, these are the reasons why we have limitations, and these are the avenues you can pursue, and these are the things you can work on in the future. That's helpful in de-escalating the situation."
 
As the only candidate without direct experience in town government, Roucoulet addressed that question head on.
 
"What I do whenever I get into a new position is immerse myself in it," he said in answer to a question about how he would serve the Select Board to make sure it stays within the bounds of Massachusetts General Law. "I signed up for the Massachusetts Municipal Association to find out more about what happens in cities and towns. I adopted a mentor who has been working with me to help hone my skills as a manager because he knows I want to be a town administrator or town manager. I have a municipal finance class coming up in the spring.
 
"I don't have all the answers now, but I will find the answers."
 
McKinney, who has a long history with town government in Clarksburg as a former Select Board member, Finance Committee member and town administrator, was asked about his departure from the latter position and whether he would do anything differently in his relationship with the Select Board at the time.
 
"It wasn't specifically personalities," McKinney said. "I get along with a wide range of people.
 
"I had a contract, and, in their minds, they ripped it up and threw it away, and it was an attempt on their part to humiliate me in front of town meeting. When both of them signed on to that endeavor … you can't work for somebody who has no moral compass."
 
The Select Board had planned an executive session on Wednesday to discuss the candidates, but after consulting with town counsel, it decided to put off that step until it had time to post an additional meeting to gather in executive session to "discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual."

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Clarksburg School, Town Working Together to Address Problems

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — School and town officials are hoping the town is now on the right track with the election of Jeffrey Levanos to the Select Board and the hiring of a town administrator.
 
Levanos, who attended the School Committee meeting on Thursday, said he was excited to be back but noted the special election on Dec. 7 and the holidays had slowed things a little. The next critical piece will be hiring a town treasurer and tax collector, he said, but it will take some time to get things righted.
 
The town's been without essential personnel since a wave of resignations from elected and appointed positions in late summer. Issues in the treasurer's office has also delayed the school district's ability to complete reports required by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
 
"The Select Board is moving toward a full body and can meet now and start filling these gaps and we're all kind of in the same predicament," said Superintendent John Franzoni, noting the Northern Berkshire School Union is also in a gap phase in which the new business administrator doesn't start until Jan. 31 and an interim part-time director of pupil services is in place. "I know we have a lot to do catching up to do with both school and town sides working together."
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