Dracut top elected official doesn’t envision tinkering with town manager selection process

Ann Vandal
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DRACUT — Since the news broke Wednesday that Interim Town Manager Ann Vandal will not move forward in the search for Dracut’s next top executive, rumors have been flying that a few disgruntled selectmen could pursue a “work-around” to keep her in the running for the job.

But Selectmen Chairman Jesse Forcier said Wednesday that, at least from his perspective, circumventing the process isn’t a viable option.

“I don’t think that would be wise at all. I don’t think there’s a movement right now for that to happen,” he said. ” … The best thing is to let the procedure play out and see who the candidates are that we will be interviewing.”

The finalists for Dracut’s top job were selected by a five-member committee, which was appointed by the Board of Selectmen to interview candidates and winnow down the applicant pool. Vandal, who was appointed interim town manager in October after former Town Manager Jim Duggan’s abrupt resignation, told The Sun in January that she had applied for the permanent post.

Selectman Joseph DiRocco, Jr., seemed especially upset by the news Thursday, noting he doesn’t believe Vandal was bumped from the running because of a “superstar” pool of candidates.

“Here we have a woman that, she’s taken over as the manager for Duggan and she gets left with a pile of really bad stuff — procurement, marijuana, morale. I mean, all kinds of stuff. But I mean, she’s been working day and night and she’s been getting it done, and done well,” DiRocco said. “I can’t explain why, I really can’t. I’m very disappointed with the screening committee.”

When asked whether he would bring forward some kind of work-around, DiRocco said, “I don’t know what I’m doing yet, to be honest. I hate to do things in the heat of the moment.”

Thursday morning on 980 WCAP, former Selectman Warren Shaw joined host Teddy Panos to discuss the surprising turn of events, with Panos citing rumors that Vandal has threatened to quit her job in the wake of being notified she hadn’t made the cut. But Forcier told The Sun he’s personally heard no indication that Vandal plans to resign from her current post, as residents have speculated.

“She’s still in the position,” Forcier said. “I have no indication that she will not continue to be in the position that she’s in.”

Forcier said there was some interest among selectmen in calling an executive session Wednesday to discuss the fact that Vandal was not selected to move forward, but he said that idea was quickly scrapped because there wasn’t a legal justification to call an executive session, since she hasn’t submitted a resignation.

The full list of finalists for the post has not been made public yet, as the search agency overseeing the process, the Edward J. Collins, Jr. Center for Public Management, is still in the midst of completing background checks.

Like others in town, Forcier said he was surprised to find out Vandal wouldn’t be counted among the finalists who will be interviewed by the board.

“I haven’t talked to the other board members, but I’m certainly hearing through the grapevine, the radio and such, that everyone is just in complete shock. I think Town Hall is in complete shock,” Forcier said. “There was just never any indication that Ann wouldn’t be in that field, the final field.”

DiRocco said he’s received calls from department heads at Town Hall who were upset to find out that Vandal did not move forward in the process. When asked if he’s heard whether Vandal plans to resign, he said he didn’t want to speak for her but “nothing would surprise (him) at this point.”

Vandal previously served as Dracut’s assistant town manager and chief financial officer, and also served as interim town manager during the town’s last search for a new top executive in 2013, after former Town Manager Dennis Piendak left the position.

Reached Wednesday, Selectmen Tony Archinski and Tami Dristiliaris both said they were surprised by the development, as well.

“I feel bad for Ann. I mean, I always believed that she deserved a shot at the job,” Archinski said Wednesday. “But on the other hand I’m also confident that the search committee did their due diligence and will forward the Board of Selectmen the absolute best candidates for the job.”

Forcier is optimistic that the board will have the list of finalists at its next meeting Tuesday, and said he plans to include a placeholder item on the agenda in the event that background checks have been completed by then.

Vandal was not reachable for comment Wednesday or Thursday. Selectman Alison Hughes was also unreachable.