By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — The Town Council will soon determine how to go about finding a new town manager.
Town Council President Diana Serra reviewed, during the council’s meeting Monday, the process the council used before Steven Hartford was appointed to the position in January of 2009, and said councilors would discuss how to conduct a search during their Sept. 23 meeting. Hartford resigned on Aug. 1, saying he had lost the support of a majority of the Town Council. Michelle Buck, who had been town solicitor, is serving as interim town manager. Buck said Wednesday that she was honored to have been appointed as interim town manager but was not prepared to answer whether she would apply for the position on a permanent basis.
“(The Council’s) support and trust means a lot to me. I am determined to maintain that confidence and support through hard work and accomplishment. I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with the town employees and to serve the public in this new capacity; and will continue to do so for as long as I am needed,” Buck said.
The search that resulted in Hartford’s appointment was a national one conducted by the council. A rubric was developed by Human Resources Director Karen Cioffi to help the council measure the candidates’ education and other qualifications. A second rubric was developed by the council, Serra said.
Serra, who was a member of the council during the previous search, described the process as a good one. The current council, Serra said, will have to determine how to proceed for the new vacancy. Among the decisions the council will make is whether to conduct a national search or a more local search, she said. Cioffi will collate material the council used for the previous search and provide it to each current councilor for their review beofre the Sept. 23 meeting, Serra said.
Although Serra said the previous process was a good one, the council was criticized by some residents who accused the council of letting politics interfere with the selection process. A petition signed by 228 residents asked the council to appoint a politically independent applicant. Hartford, a Democrat, had served previously as a town attorney.
Forty people applied for the town manger position in 2009. The rubric designed by Cioffi narrowed the field to 10; five finalists were interviewed by the council behind closed doors. The field was eventually narrowed to three candidates: Hartford, William DiLibero and Jean-Ann McGrane, who was city manager in Newburgh, N.Y., at the time. Hartford and DiLibero, who was then the town manager in Hopkinton, were eventually interviewed publicly. McGrane had emerged as the favored candidate among the majority of councilors, but withdrew her candidacy before the public interviews were conducted, citing concerns with the town’s retirement benefits.