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Name: Clarence L. Farwell

Age: 73.

Address: 25 Lake Road.

Years of residency: 73.

Education: Bachelor of Science in civil engineering, University of New Hampshire.

Employment: Former owner of C.L. Farwell Construction; now, the company is owned by my son and I am a consultant to him and the company.

Political history: 61⁄2 years as selectmen, 25 years as road agent.

Affiliations: Melendy Pond Authority, Planning Board, tree warden, sexton, Trustee of Trust Funds, Trustee of the Brookline Community Church, 50-year member Masonic Order; founding member of the Lions Club, member of the Brookline Historical Society, Acacia Fraternity.

Family: Married to Marcia for 48 years, three grown sons.
Friday, May 4, 2012

Brookline chairman: Public input in town administrator hiring would be ‘disaster’

BROOKLINE – Giving the public a chance to vet potential town administrator finalists would be “asking for a disaster,” Selectmen’s Chairman Clarence Farwell said Tuesday.

As selectmen go through the process of interviewing and ultimately selecting the town’s first administrator, inviting too many opinions to the table would only complicate the decision, Farwell said.

“I think it’s the selectmen’s job to do that,” he said.

Farwell said residents had their chance to voice their opinion on the position when they approved a warrant article this March to appropriate $58,200 to hire an administrator. The act of actually hiring one is the responsibility of the board, he said.

Selectmen began interviewing candidates for the position last week. Farwell said a selection will be made by late May. The public will not get a chance to hear about the candidates for the position until after the decision is made, if at all.

Selectmen have not yet determined whether the names of finalists for the position will be announced, but Farwell said it would not happen before one is chosen.

Instead, he said the board has focused on how to manage the interview process, which selectmen are handling themselves.

Not everyone is pleased with the decision to keep the public out of the process.

Local resident and member of the town Transparency Committee Dennis Skey is unhappy with the way the town is handling the hiring process. The public should be given more information about the finalists for the position, he said.

“I can’t see how it’s going to hurt anyone,” he said. “It would be nice to know who is in the running, because it’s a public position.”

Three candidates were interviewed last Friday, and a final three will be interviewed this Friday.

“The public will hear afterwards who we recommend to fill the position,” Farwell said, saying the board is committed to protecting candidates’ privacy.

While selectmen have remained tight-lipped regarding candidates’ identities, former board Chair Tad Putney confirmed Tuesday that he applied for the position. He declined to comment on his interest in the position, but said he was not surprised to see the board stay mum on the identities of candidates. It’s the practical thing to do, he said.

However, Skey said that while he understands that some personnel issues, such as terminations, are private matters, he does not believe naming candidates for the town administrator position would violate anyone’s privacy.

Skey also is concerned with the board’s decision to handle the hiring process themselves.

When the idea of hiring a town administrator was first discussed, Skey said town officials talked about outsourcing the process to the Local Government Center, which helps municipalities find qualified candidates.

Some voters who approved hiring an administrator, he said, believed that the LGC would lead the process and help reduce any bias among town officials.

On Wednesday, though, Farwell said that while the board discussed many options for the town administrator hiring process, including using a company such as the LGC or creating a search committee, handing over the process to an outside company was only discussed in passing, and not a serious consideration.

“We felt the board could do the job satisfactorily, expedite the process and save the town some money,” he said.

While he was unsure how much it would have cost the town to hire the LGC, he said it would have been more than the price of the current hiring process, in which the biggest cost was advertising for the position in the newspaper and elsewhere. The position was advertised online and in the newspaper for about a month, he said.

LGC spokeswoman Ann Marie French said Tuesday that the company does not give specific recommendations to its municipal clients regarding how to communicate a hiring process with the public.

“We’ve observed in the past that some towns do release a list of finalists and some do not,” she said. “There is no right or wrong way.”

Still, Skey said the idea to hire a town administrator was based primarily on decreasing the workload on the Board of Selectmen and improving transparency and communication between the board, town departments and the public. To not let the public in on the hiring process for the position is ironic, he said.

The town administrator will be responsible for, among many things, overseeing and coordinating the response to any Right to Know request received by town staff and managing the town’s transparency efforts.

However, Farwell said Tuesday that while some residents may view the administrator hiring process as lacking transparency, it is nothing new. A similar process was used when the town hired Police Chief William Quigley, Farwell said.

For that hire, selectmen created a search committee made up of residents and one selectmen who worked to narrow down the number of candidates to five finalists. Farwell said the selectmen then interviewed those finalists and selected Quigley.

The names of the other five finalists were never released to the public, he said.

Putney said Tuesday that he was on the board at the time the chief was hired and that he initially wanted to have a more open hiring process, he soon realized it would be unpractical.

For one, he said, many people interested in applying for a town position would not want their current employers to know they had applied.

“Their employers wouldn’t be pleased if they read about it in the newspaper that their key employee is looking elsewhere,” he said.

A selection for the town administrator position likely will be made this month, after the final three interviews are conducted by the board Friday morning. The interviews will be held during a nonpublic meeting at Town Hall.