Screening committee to begin reviewing Dracut manager resumes

Members of the Town Manager Screening Committee are sworn in at Dracut Town Hall Thursday night. From left: Phil Thibault, John Crowley, Joe Wilkie, Kathy Patenaude and Charles Kanavos. (SUN/Meg McIntyre)

DRACUT — The group tasked with narrowing down applicants for Dracut’s next town manager has begun its work.

The Town Manager Screening Committee met for the first time and was sworn in Thursday night at Dracut Town Hall. Over the next several weeks, the committee’s five members will review resumes and conduct interviews with candidates before passing on a group of finalists to the  Board of Selectmen.

The committee is appointed by the board and includes Zoning Board of Appeals member John Crowley; Dracut Housing Authority Commissioner Charles Kanavos; Affordable Housing Partnership Committee Chairwoman Kathy Patenaude; Master Planning Committee Chairman Phil Thibault; and School Committee member Joe Wilkie. Thibault volunteered Thursday to serve as the committee’s chairman, while Crowley agreed to serve as its clerk.

The group will receive guidance from Mary Flanders Aicardi, a senior associate with the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management, which is handling the search. The Collins Center also led the search when Dracut’s last town manager, Jim Duggan, was hired six years ago. Duggan resigned abruptly from his post in October.

Going forward, the committee will convene only in executive session in order to protect the privacy of applicants until the finalist stage, Aicardi said. Confidentiality considerations were part of the discussion when the Board of Selectmen voted to use an agency and screening committee in the search rather than delegating the duty to town employees.

“Confidentiality is incredibly important, not just for the process, but for the candidates,” Aicardi said. “This is a big job; people who are applying for this job will be sitting administrators, public figures, and unless they become one of your voted finalists, we really need to keep it confidential.”

The committee members will receive a book of resumes in the next few days, Aicardi said, and are asked to review them before the group’s next meeting Jan. 16, when they will reach a consensus on which applicants should be brought in for an interview.

The members are also tasked with individually coming up with a few questions they’d like to be asked during the interviewing process. Aicardi cautioned the committee that questions shouldn’t be crafted with a specific candidate’s qualifications in mind; each applicant who is interviewed will be asked the same questions, she said. Committee members are also discouraged from searching the applicants online.

Though the board did not specify how many finalists must be selected, Aicardi said a range of four to six is typical. The Collins Center does not publicly share information about how many applications have been received, and the committee is able to interview as many candidates as the members see fit, she said.

Aicardi told the committee to review the resumes through the lens of a profile for the position created using input from the selectmen. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree at minimum, along with at least five years of experience as a town or city manager, or in another role that oversees operations of a public entity, according to the profile.

The group tentatively blocked off several days in the last two weeks of January for the interviews. After the committee has chosen its finalists, the Collins Center will complete the background check and reference process before scheduling interviews with the Board of Selectmen and making the names of the finalists public.

Under the town’s charter, the Board of Selectmen must appoint a new town manager within 120 days of appointing an interim town manager, though Town Counsel James Hall said in November that the charter doesn’t outline a penalty for missing that deadline.

Ann Vandal, who formerly served as assistant town manager, was appointed interim town manager in October. Vandal told The Sun last week that she has applied for the permanent position.