Friday, September 11, 2009
Timothy Goddard chosen as Carlisle’s next Town Administrator
On Thursday, September 3, Timothy Goddard was chosen unanimously by the Board of Selectmen as the new Carlisle Town Administrator. Goddard, now Assistant Town Manager in Framingham, grew up and still resides in Littleton, and previously served a nine-year stint as Littleton Town Administrator. His experience in small-town administration, excellent team-building skills, and very strong references were all cited in making the choice. Goddard will succeed Madonna McKenzie, who retires as Town Administrator at the end of September.
The previous Monday, three finalists for the position had presented their qualifications in a public televised forum. Brian Connolly, School Business Administrator for Walpole, Goddard and Jeff Ritter, Interim Municipal Administrator for the Town of Bridgewater each presented impressive credentials and responded effectively to questions from the Selectmen and audience. At the Thursday meeting, BOS Chair Tim Hult noted the public forum was only one factor in the decision, and that each selectman had also conducted private interviews and reference checks, “We have a lot of information, only some of which has been shared with the public.”
Three finalists all strong
The three candidates were so close in qualifications that when the Selectmen initially went around the table, each finalist received at least one vote. Doug Stevenson, speaking first, thanked the search committee for “giving us a very tough choice,” adding, “We can’t go too far wrong with any of the three.” He noted Ritter’s strong showing Monday, but concluded, “My leaning is toward Tim Goddard,” for his experience in a small community similar to Carlisle and his very strong references. “I haven’t found anyone with anything negative to say about him,” he concluded.
Peter Scavongelli was torn. He and John Williams had been assigned to interview Goddard and check his references. Goddard had proved “enthusiastic, upbeat . . .very impressive,” said Scavongelli noting, “every reference was outstanding.” However, in the public interview, “I didn’t see that same level of excitement.” He wished for another opportunity to see the candidates.
Williams called Ritter’s performance in the public interview “outstanding,” noting he answered the questions directly with examples, and showed a humorous side, convincing Williams that Ritter should be the choice. As part of his due diligence, Williams had called six people who had worked with Ritter but had not been given as references. All gave superlative reviews.
Williams admitted he could vote for Goddard as well, whose references had been “absolutely glowing.” He found Connolly even-keeled and qualified in every way, but wondered, “How well would he do in a small town like Carlisle?” when all his experience has been with larger municipalities.
Bill Tice agreed that “Ritter shined through like a star” in the public forum, but thought this was an artificial environment and a candidate should not be judged only on this performance. He supported Connolly, whom he saw as a good technical manager with experience with metrics related to performance, “That really grabbed me.”
With votes all over the field, it was Chair Tim Hult’s turn, and his observation that Goddard was the best match for Carlisle helped crystallize the decision. Having spoken with Town Hall employees, some of whom knew people who had worked with Goddard, Hult had learned, “Goddard is a fine person to work for. He listens and builds teams.” On the other hand, “Brian [Connolly] is a hard, diligent worker who understands facts and works through problems” and “Jeff [Ritter] is well-liked by the people who work for him,” and is “a good administrator who attempted to execute the agenda in difficult times.”
Hult pointed to patterns in each person’s career. “Goddard’s heart is in small town administration.” After nine years as Littleton Town Administrator, he moved on to Framingham to get a wider perspective, but after three years now wishes to return to the small town environment. Hult noted Goddard’s experience with planning, land acquisition, land preservation, finances, purchasing, labor negotiations and Town Meeting. Connolly’s résumé shows he would provide “competent technical financial management” and Ritter is “the interim guy” for communities in the process of change. “We’re not changing our government and we’re not trying to get expertise in financial management,” concluded Hult. “I think Goddard is the best choice.”
Hult had reviewed interview performance with each candidate and observed that Goddard was aware his answers were not always effective. As required by law, the forum was public and, as a result, stressful. Hult did not believe this was representative of Goddard’s communications skills. Connolly had not convinced Hult he understood small-town issues. Ritter had responded well, but became somewhat defensive on a question about receiving criticism. Williams noted Ritter has held difficult jobs and taken much blame for financial situations that were not of his making, such that one reference had observed that working in Carlisle would be like going on a cruise compared to Ritter’s past hot seats.
Goddard’s personnel skills valued
The discussion continued, with Williams continuing to lean toward Ritter. Scavongelli noted communication breakdowns have been an on-going problem. In that respect, Goddard’s tendencies to walk around to offices and maximize face-to-face encounters were “a lot of the things I was hoping to hear,” said Scavongelli.
Stevenson wondered how Goddard had reacted to growth in Littleton, and Scavongelli assured him, “He not only handled change, but advocated for it.” Hult observed that talking to Goddard about Littleton as it grew “was like talking to someone from Carlisle” in that the issues were identical.
Stevenson noted that Goddard lives close by, while Ritter would have an hour-long commute from Medway. Goddard has established relationships within the region, joining the regional planning group and “taking the time to learn more than just what goes on in Littleton.”
Williams offered, “It’s fairly clear that we are most comfortable with Tim Goddard. I’m ready to go in that direction now.” He made a motion for a vote and the decision to offer the position to Goddard was unanimous.
Hult then proposed a small committee consisting of himself, Williams and Joanne Driscoll of the Personnel Board, to handle negotiation of the contract. This vote was also unanimous. Hult thanked the search committee and town employees for their interest and feedback, “A lot was accomplished in a short period of time. This was a good process.”
In the interview Monday, Goddard spoke of his reasons for wanting the position in Carlisle. He is pleased the town is stable and well managed, with extensive volunteerism and an engaged citizenry that has shown its support at Town Meeting. “I appreciate the culture,” he said, and would find the Town Administrator position “challenging and
involving.” Working in a small town “is not for everyone. It can be overwhelming wearing all the hats,” but, “I find the scope of issues more appealing.” He concluded, “I know I can do this job and do it well. It would be my privilege to work for the Town of Carlisle.” ∆
Search process details
In a phone conversation Wednesday, Chair Tim Hult described the process the Board of Selectmen (BOS) pursued for vetting each candidate. After the search committee presented the three finalists, each Selectman was assigned two individuals for reference checking. In addition to the references given, each went beyond, seeking out people the candidate had worked with but not given as references. For his candidates, Hult spoke to about ten people each in the towns they’d worked in, including selectmen, chief of police, fire chief, superintendent of schools and others. The other BOS members did a similarly thorough job.
Hult said the other valuable input was the opinion of those at Town Hall who saw the public interviews. Several had communicated with people they knew who might know the candidates. “I spent most of the day at Town Hall hearing opinions, feedback and information garnered from their contacts.”
The Selectmen believe that Town Administrator “is an increasingly important position” deserving of thorough due-diligence, said Hult. “I’m really optimistic about the choice we made.” ∆
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