WESTERLY — The Town Council will meet in a closed-door, executive session tonight to discuss the status of a search for an interim town manager.
On Thursday, the council struggled to gain consensus on how to proceed. On March 26, the council agreed to interview four people out of the 14 who expressed interest in the position. One of those four candidates withdrew from consideration. The council then interviewed the remaining three and decided, after the interviews, to give further consideration to and vet two of them.
One of those two finalists, Richard J. White of Lexington, Mass., remains a candidate. The status of the second finalist depends on who you ask. On Thursday some councilors said the candidate withdrew. Other councilors said the candidate initially withdrew but later said he continued to be interested.
“I don’t know if councilors are aware we have two candidates in the race. One said he would drop out because he doesn’t want his name dragged through the mud but said if selected he would serve,” Councilor Mario Celico said during a council workshop meeting on Thursday.
Celico called on the council to select one of the two remaining candidates but could not get a consensus. Councilor William Aiello said the other candidate should no longer be considered.
“There’s no way that I will ever support bringing the person back who withdrew … I’m not going to beg and ask someone to come here,” Aiello said, later adding that the process for the candidate he was discussing was “tainted because he was contacted before the interview.”
When asked to elaborate on Monday, Aiello said he was concerned that Councilor Jean Gagnier spoke to the candidate on the morning of the interviews. On that day, Gagnier left the council dais saying he wanted to speak to a candidate to determine what the candidates had been told about whether the interviews would be held in public or in private.
On Monday, Gagnier noted that he spoke to the candidate in question for about 20 seconds outside the council chamber. He called Aiello’s comment “reckless.”
“If Councilor Aiello believes that tainted the interview, I view that as a reckless statement. It’s ridiculous,” Gagnier said.
Instead, Aiello said, he supported Councilor Phillip Overton’s proposal to line up interviews with an additional three candidates. Celico said he could not fully support Overton’s idea because one of the three additional interviews Overton wanted to conduct was with an individual who currently works for the town. Celico has maintained that a current town employee should not serve as interim manager because to do so would create a difficult dynamic once a permanent manager is hired.
The council hopes to have an interim manager in place by April 30. Current Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy’s last day is April 27. He has taken a job as town manager in Mansfield, Conn.
On Thursday the council asked Kennedy to post the town’s search for an interim town manager on a regional town manager association website. Kennedy and his staff had previously posted the vacancy on association websites in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.
Council President Edward Morrone has scheduled possible executive sessions to interview candidates for the interim position and possibly vote to hire someone for the council’s meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
“I’m just trying to keep the process moving forward,” Morrone said.
White, according to his resume, currently runs Groux-White Consulting LLC, a firm that provides organization assessments, training and other services to municipalities in Massachusetts. He has held several town manager and town administrator positions during his career. Most recently, he served as town administrator in Dennis, Mass., a town on Cape Cod, and as town manager in Winthrop, Mass.