|Lanesborough Interviews Town Administrator Finalists|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
10:37PM / Thursday, August 23, 2012
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Selectmen will decide between a longtime mayor of West Springfield, an energetic young director of community development and an attorney who is now a town administrator.
The Selectmen spent three hours interviewing the finalists on Wednesday.
The interviews of the three finalist for the first full-time town administrator took place at Town Hall on Wednesday.
Edward Gibson, who spent the last 11 years as mayor in West Springfield; Matthew "Selby" Selby, Ashland's director of community development; and Wellfleet Town Adminstrator Paul Sieloff spent about an hour each with the selectmen.
A selection committee chose the finalists after picking through 41 resumes and doing preliminary interviews with six candidates. The Selectmen are expected to make a decision in the next week. The post comes with a salary between $60,000 and $70,000.
Gibson led off the interview by emphasizing his history of creating balanced budgets and history in the private sector.
"I think I bring a very unique and varied background with me," Gibson said. "I have almost 20 years of small-business experience in running a small hardware store that had about 10 employees and did about $800,000 of business a year. The 19 years of experience there probably got me elected as mayor because of that face-to-face contact and helping people."
When the larger hardware stores such as Home Depot came in, his business began to drop so he went back to school to earn his master's degree in accounting. He worked three years on a special project for Aetna Insurance in the information technology department before running for mayor.
Gibson said he created a structurally balanced municipal budget, meaning he funded reoccurring costs with reoccurring revenues and shifted one-time capital costs to be paid out of reserves and other one-time revenues.
A member of the School Committee by charter, he said he was elected five times to chair that committee. He was able to secure a School Building Authority reimbursement to build a new school.
He started with the Finance Committee and worked extensively with volunteer committees, he said, as well as leading collective bargaining for both the school and the town.
However, being both mayor and chairman of the School Committee was enough work as it is, he said, and he decided he did not want the extra task of campaigning for office again.
"I love working with people. I love working with municipal government but I've had enough elections," Gibson said.
Selby was the second interview. While lacking experience as town administrator, he pointed to his leadership in the community development in Ashland and 12 years experience in public relations — including working for the Trustees of Reservations. He said he has been "groomed" for his first job as town administrator.
He has a master's degree in resource management and left public relations for a job as a conservation agent for the town of Ashland seven years ago.
Matthew 'Selby' Selby
"As soon as I came into Ashland, I got a taste of public service and knew it was for me," Selby said. "I asked my town manager for more responsibility and my first promotion was to director of economic development. We had a reorganization where we combined the health department, building and conservation. They appointed me the director of community development and I've been serving in that capacity for about three years now."
He oversees a staff of about 12 and said he has secured and administered many grants as well as helped to grow the town's redevelopment authority.
When asked about what he sees as the challenges to Lanesborough specifically, he said the town has a very high tax rate, close to the levy limit and little commercial tax base.
"Your largest commercial tax base is the Berkshire Mall and I had an opportunity to walk around it today. I am not a person who goes to malls a lot and it is a Wednesday afternoon. There were people there but there were some empty storefronts and it seemed like traffic was a little slow. That's one of the challenges because if you lose that as a commercial tax base, it is going to be very hard to backfill," Selby said.
Despite his development background, the board questioned his experience as an administrator and asked him how he would handle the various aspects of that job. Selby said he has been involved with just about every aspect of the town while in Ashland because he worked so closely with the town manager. He said he has worked with unionized employees, hired and fired, and has negotiated with contractors.
"It won't be difficult for me to hit the ground running. I'm very fortunate to have the support of my town manager and assistant town manager. They have groomed me to take on this role," Selby said, adding that he has a large "support group" to go to if he needs assistance. "If you come to me with a question about something and I don't know the answer, I am not going to lie just to give you an answer. I will tell you that I don't know and I will get back to you as soon as I possibly can. I am really good at research and I am very resourceful."
Selby said he was looking to move to Lanesborough as a "lifestyle" change. He is a kayaker and snowboarder and already spends a lot of time in Western Massachusetts, he said.
The final candidate was Paul Sieloff, the current town administrator for Wellfleet. Sieloff informed Wellfleet in June he was leaving, just months after signing an extended contract with the town for $108,000. His wife's career as a budget analyst for the state of New York has grown, he said, so they decided to stay in New York - and avoid his five-hour commutes twice a week to Cape Cod.
Sieloff has a lengthy resume regarding municipal finance. He previously worked as a budget analyst with the Albany (N.Y.) County Office of Management and Budget Analysis, as village manager in both Northport, N.Y. and Valley Stream, N.Y. He is also a licensed attorney in New York and holds a master's degree is in political science with a concentration on state and local government.
"I worked for 11 years in the New York State Legislature Council Office reviewing legislation dealing with various research. I did work on a number of issues regarding local government such as environmental issues and financial issues," Sieloff said.
He took the job in Wellfleet in 2008, working three days a week in the office.
"It's been a great experience. I've been a very proactive administrator. I take a lot of pride in the financial side," Sieloff said. "I was very active in regional issues as a way to help budgets become more efficient."
He worked out agreements to share resources with other towns, secured grants and is working with expanding Internet access.
"During my time period we doubled our free cash and doubled our stabilization fund. I was able to deal with a lot of the challenges in 2008 and 2009 without having to lay off any staff," Sieloff said.
When asked about the town's budget situation, Sieloff said he would be very proactive in looking at the future and raise revenues by land sales or restructuring positions in order to reduce spending.
"You really have to be alert at your financial situation," he said. "I'd like to take a look at the infrastructure around town, particularly buildings and roads. I've always been a proponent of the DPW as an important department."
Wellfleet has 13 police officers, eight firefighters and 75 to 80 employees, is part of a four-town regional school district and has an "enormous" number of volunteer committees that Sieloff works with.