Sandy Pooler, 2022Sandy Pooler
eyes retirement

UPDATED March 9: The Town of Arlington is seeking advice from the state after three of the four finalists for the town manager position recently withdrew from the hiring process -- a human-resources situation that the town's own attorney acknowledges is an unusual one.

Town officials decline to say why the three withdrew, referring to personnel provisions of the state Open Meeting Law.

Announcing at its Feb. 27 meeting that all but one finalist had withdrawn, the Select Board then voted unanimously to direct Town Counsel Doug Heim to contact the state attorney general’s Division of Open Government regarding the manager-search process. That division helps public bodies to understand and to comply with the law.

The issue is this: How does the hiring process move forward now that there is just one finalist -- and when the need to hire a qualified candidate is an urgent one? Town Manager Sandy Pooler has been in the town's top job only since June 2022, and his contract is set to expire by August 2023; moreover, Pooler has previously publicly stated his intention to retire at that time. For that reason, earlier this year, the Select Board had stated its desire to choose Pooler's successor as soon as next month. 

4 candidates recommended

The screening committee worked with Community Paradigm Associates LLC, of Plymouth, hired by Arlington to help recruit the next town manager; the consultant was required to recommend more than one candidate.

The company led a process that developed four recommended candidates. None has yet been identified, and state law allows their names to remain unknown at this point in the process.

In protecting the privacy interests of the candidates who wish to withdraw from consideration, the screening committee cannot publicly identify three of them, leaving the town with only one public recommendation, Heim told the board.

“This office reached out to the Division of Open Government, which doesn’t have a precedent for this exact situation," he said.

2 options

The town counsel said the board has two options:

  • Reopen the search without the screening committee, which would steer it in a different direction; and
  • Contact the Division of Open Government, describing the circumstances, "so that the Select Board can proceed with confidence that it has done everything it can before using the screening committee’s single public recommendation,” Heim said.

The Massachusetts Municipal Association, which advocates for state municipal services, wrote in a memo: “The preliminary screening cannot result in the recommendation of a single candidate. Instead, there must be at least two candidates that pass the screening and are passed on to the parent public body for further consideration.

Select Board logo, 2019

"It is immaterial whether the decision is unanimous, or whether the single candidate is the best, or only, qualified candidate, because there is a public right-to-know about the hiring process, and the parent public body should not be a rubber stamp to the preliminary screening committee recommendation.”

The memo's comment leave unclear just what information the public has a right to know.

3 could submit statements 

In an update to the Select Board at the March 6 meeting, said the screening committee found three finalists and one alternate, though three withdrew from consideration before a public interview before the board. Heim said that the people who withdrew are eligible to make a public statement, though they are not required to. Heim gave them until March 20 to submit a statement. 

Community Paradigm started Arlington’s town manager search in November, when it worked with the Select Board, department heads and the community to develop a position statement and profile used to seek candidates, The $14,000 contract with Community Paradigm was announced last May

The firm's founder/manager Bernie Lynch, the former city manager of Lowell, wrote a letter to Select Board Chair Len Diggins dated Feb. 25 describing the screening process.

At the meeting two days later, Lynch explained that his organization searched for possible candidates via several methods: making posts in several online locations that potential town managers likely would check, using various public administration programs, culling through a database of more than 300 people that his employees are familiar with and other active recruiting methods. 

Talked to about 2 dozen

Lynch told the board Feb. 27: “We talked to about two dozen people we thought would be good candidates. We felt we had a strong pool, and 20 people applied for the position. These numbers are similar to [those obtained in] other communities. I then identified 12 candidates who I thought would be good candidates and interviewed six of them. We then recommended four candidates for advancement to the Select Board, but three decided to withdraw from the process.”

Select Board member Eric Helmuth said that this was a good, robust process by the screening committee. “It’s good to know that the remaining candidate is one that has full confidence of the group as being a viable candidate. The process hasn’t failed.” 

Select Board member John Hurd said: “We trust the people on the screening committee. It’s not their fault that three of the candidates withdrew from consideration.”

No comment

YourArlington asked Caryn Molloy, town personnel director, for the general reasons that the three candidates had withdrawn. The website's editor did not ask for any names nor any other identifying information.

"No comment," Molloy wrote March 6. "I am sorry. Details of the process, including those you seek which [are] not directly associated with a specific person, are confidential."

Heim 'confident'

Asked about the legal support for that response, Heim responded later on March 6:

"I am confident that the screening committee followed the screening process outlined in the Open Meeting Law and recommended the appropriate number of candidates.

"... Ms. Malloy is correct. The privacy rights of applicants for public positions who wish to withdraw before the public interview portion of the process are substantial and recognized by the Division and Courts.

"Hence, the screening committee and Mr. Lynch are both in keeping with the law and quality recruitment processes for chief executive officers in local government by not disclosing the names of withdrawn candidates . . . ."

Heim confirmed that he had contacted the Division of Open Government, by phone and by letter. He said the division "is an excellent resource for both the public and municipalities, but I should note they are not required to comment or respond to our request. In an abundance of respect for the division, I do not wish to comment on our discourse prematurely."

Watch the Feb. 27 meeting on ACMi:

Feb. 16, 2023: Manager search enters final phase; Maher named board admin

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert and Editor Bob Sprague was published Wednesday, March 8, 2023, and it was updated March 9, with further information from town counsel. Freelance writer Renee Abbott contributed to this report.

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