Groton Town Manager Mark Haddad
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

DRACUT — The names of the finalists for Dracut’s next top executive are out — and two of them are familiar faces in the Greater Lowell and Nashoba Valley area.

The five-member screening committee tasked with reviewing applicants in the search for a new town manager has chosen four candidates to forward to the Board of Selectmen: former Amesbury Mayor Kenneth Gray, Groton Town Manager Mark Haddad, Framingham Chief Operating Officer Thatcher Kezer III, and Southbridge Town Manager Ronald San Angelo.

At least one of the candidates has faced public backlash in the past. Haddad, who has worked in Groton since 2008, had previously been the subject of sexual harassment allegations, which The Sun reported on when he was a finalist for a town manager position in Billerica. He was not selected for the position.

The release of the names has been highly anticipated after residents learned that Interim Town Manager Ann Vandal, who applied for the permanent position, was not selected to move forward to the final stage of the process. Vandal served as assistant town manager and chief financial officer under former Town Manager Jim Duggan, who resigned abruptly in October after facing public criticism for his handling of town purchasing.

[Click here to view the candidates’ resumes, provided to The Sun by the Board of Selectmen]

In December, Haddad said he planned to stay in his position in Groton for at least another year, choosing not to utilize an “opt-out” clause in his contract. But Haddad told a Sun reporter Thursday that he thinks he has “one more challenge, one more big responsibility to take on” at this point in his career. He said he’s “very happy” in Groton, but that Dracut is a “larger town with more responsibility,” and noted that his contract allows him to resign if he gives the Select Board 30-60 days notice.

In his cover letter, Haddad highlighted improvements made in Groton under his leadership, including an improved bond rating, surpluses in the town budget, state-of-the art fire station and local business growth. He has served as a town manager or administrator in several other communities, including Dunstable, Stratford, Conn., Jamestown, R.I., Cohasset and Littleton.

His tenure in Groton has not been without controversy. In 2011, a local woman alleged he had sent her “inappropriate messages” over the phone and online. A subsequent investigation completed by a private investigator hired by the Select Board found that Haddad violated Groton policy by sending some of the messages from his municipal phone and computer, but did not violate the law.

Haddad resigned from his position as the town manager in Cohasset shortly after two female town employees alleged that he had sexually harassed them, The Sun reported in 2008, when he was a finalist for the town manager role in Billerica. The women were paid more than $70,000 each to settle claims by the Cohasset insurance carrier, and the town paid $15,000 in deductibles.

Kezer and Gray have been in the running for the same job before, as Kezer served as mayor of Amesbury from 2006 to 2013, when he lost his bid for re-election to Gray by four votes, according to the Newburyport News. He became Framingham’s chief operating officer in 2018, his resume shows, and prior to that was senior vice president for MassDevelopment in Devens, supervising the public works, recreation, utilities and public safety departments there.

His resume and cover letter also point to his military experience as a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, where he served as director of cyberspace operations and military liaison officer for the Massachusetts Joint Forces headquarters before retiring in 2017.

In his cover letter, Kezer touted his economic development strategy and focus on creating regional collaborative agreements to reduce costs for municipal services while serving as mayor of Amesbury. During his time in Framingham, Kezer said he has introduced new programs to improve efficiency, such as FramStat, a data-tracking tool where the city’s division heads log operational updates.

Gray served as Amesbury’s mayor for six years before being unseated by challenger Kassandra Gove in November, according to a report in the Newburyport News. His resume also lists several positions in the technology industry, including as founder, president and CEO of Haverhill-based company Northwave Technology, Inc., a position he left in 2016. In his cover letter, Gray emphasized his efforts to control property taxes in Amesbury, noting that the local tax rate dropped from $20.97 to $17.18 over his six-year tenure.

In April, the Boston Globe reported that a prospective marijuana retailer, CKR Natural Solutions, had filed suit against Amesbury and Gray alleging that he changed the city’s application process in order to block the company from obtaining a license. The case is still ongoing, according to the Massachusetts Trial Courts online docket.

San Angelo’s contract in Southbridge is set to expire in August after the Board of Selectmen voted not to renew it following a poor performance review, according to a report in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. Since 2018, he has been a finalist for several town manager and administrator positions across the state, including in Hamilton, Oxford, Norfolk and Acushnet.

His resume shows that he previously worked as the town administrator in Hanson, Mass. for two years and as the town manager in Naugatuck, Conn. for four. He also was a state representative in the Connecticut legislature from 1992 to 2003.

“If you look at my resume, you’ll see I have over 20 years of experience in government, and I’m a certified procurement officer for the state of Massachusetts, which is an important issue right now,” San Angelo told The Sun. ” … I’ve been doing this for a long time and I have very high qualifications and been very successful, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to discuss it with the Board of Selectmen.”

Selectmen Chairman Jesse Forcier said the board will discuss next steps and interview procedure at its next meeting Tuesday. The agenda for that session, which is set for 7 p.m. at the Dracut Town Hall, had not yet been released as of Thursday afternoon.