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South Hadley to name new town administrator March 5

The Select Board interviewed former Holyoke mayor Michael J. Sullivan and former Naugatuck, Conn., mayor Ronald S. San Angelo separately in back-to-back, public interviews at Town Hall. About 25 people attended, including the heads of several town departments and representatives of town employee unions. The interviews were telecast on the town’s cable-access channel.

“Our goal is to make a decision at our March 5 meeting,” Select Board Chairman John R. Hine told the audience as the interviews ended.

He asked residents to let board members know if they favor either candidate for the position, which pays $105,000 to $130,000 a year.

The board’s decision “is going to have long-reaching ramifications,” Hine said.

Sullivan, 57, who lives at 5 Pheasant Drive in Holyoke, is town administrator of Maynard, 20 miles west of Boston, which has a Town Meeting government similar to South Hadley’s. His three-year contract with Maynard ends March 31.

San Angelo, 50, touted his experience as mayor and a member of the Board of Burgesses for Naugatuck, a former textile city of 32,000. He also served 10 years as a Connecticut state legislator, representing Naugatuck and three smaller communities similar in size to South Hadley, he said. San Angelo is now a project technology manager at CGI Corp. in Andover.

Both men detailed challenges they faced as public officials. Each was faced with choosing a new police chief during his tenure and each opted for outside candidates rather than choosing the new chief from within local ranks — unpopular decisions at the time, Sullivan and San Angelo said.

“It’s hard to have people angry with you, but it was the right thing to do,” San Angelo said.

Sullivan discussed the high-speed computing center that opened last fall in Holyoke, noting that the city’s ability to offer low-cost municipal power — due in part to an earlier unpopular decision to buy a hydroelectric plant — brought a consortium of top-tier colleges, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to the Paper City.

“They were all set to build (a similar facility) in North Carolina,” Sullivan said, adding that backing from Gov. Deval Patrick brought the project to fruition.

Both men emphasized the value of close communication with members of the Select Board, other town officials, employees and taxpayers.

Sullivan said town government needs to be “very conservative” on municipal costs, while still providing the full range of services that taxpayers expect from local government.

Both men said they tossed out the requirement of weekly meetings with town department heads in favor of a more flexible approach.

In negotiating new contracts with town employee unions, San Angelo said he would use a “professional and respectful” approach.

“I’m going to know those contracts as well as the union representatives know them,” he said, adding he considers it a “waste of time” to fight union grievances if the facts favor the union.

Both men said careful planning must accompany the annual budgeting process, with close communication with department heads.

Department heads “have got to sell me first (on any proposed increases), long before it gets to you,” he told the Select Board.

San Angelo said that if he is named the new town administrator, he plans to move to South Hadley.

“I’m looking forward to becoming part of your community,” he said.

South Hadley has been without a permanent town administrator for 14 months, since former administrator Paul Beecher resigned abruptly in Janurary 2012 when the board declined to renew his three-year contract, which still had a year to run.

Jennifer Wolowicz, formerly the town’s personnel and procurement officer, was named acting town administrator after Beecher’s resignation. She was named assistant town administrator by the Select Board in January.

After the session, Hine said the interviews “went great.”

“It’s such a relief to be in the position to have two such qualified candidates,” he said. “I’m anxious (to make a decision). It’s been a long haul.”

“We got two candidates who both have broad experience in government,” said Select Board Vice Chairman Robert G. Judge, adding both candidates were “enthusiastic” about the South Hadley job.

Etta Walsh can be reached at ewalsh.gazette@gmail.com.

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