Southampton still dealing with vacancies in town government
Michael Phelan, a member of the Southampton Select Board, reminisces about a leaking roof and the town's neglect of buildings following a tour of the Larrabee Building Thursday. Purchase photo reprints »
SOUTHAMPTON — In response to pressure from two town committees, the Select Board has renewed its efforts to permanently fill the town administrator position, which has been vacant for well over a year.
Former Town Administrator Diana Schindler left the position in July 2011, but the vacancy has not been advertised or posted on any websites. Assistant Town Administrator Regina Shea-Sullivan has been filling in as interim town administrator.
Select Board Chairman Michael Phelan said the board hopes to post the position by the end of the year.
The Finance Committee and the Personnel Policies and Procedure Board both penned memos to the Select Board this summer urging them to start the process of posting the position because they must vote every 12 weeks to approve Shea-Sullivan’s reappointment. Her fifth quarter as interim town manager will end Oct. 2.
“We recommended that instead of time and time again renewing the interim administrator’s pay, we’d like to see the position filled permanently,” said Finance Committee member James Fleming Jr. “It in no way indicates any dissatisfaction with the person in the position, we’d just like to see it filled.”
Personnel Policies and Procedures Board Chairman Edward Cauley said the board sent a similar note to the Select Board in July. Cauley also sits on the Select Board and is highway superintendent.
The town is also relying on an interim fire chief. William Kaleta, formerly a member of the Highway Department and deputy fire chief, was named interim chief June 21, the same night that the Select Board fired former Chief Stephen Hyde Sr.
The board has been tight-lipped about the reason for the dismissal, saying only that selectmen wanted new leadership in the Fire Department.
Both Shea-Sullivan and Kaleta say that they hope to be chosen to fill the positions permanently.
Phelan said the board has delayed advertising the town administrator position because members want to review and possibly update the job description. He said the job has evolved since the description was drafted in 2005, before the town hired Schindler to be its first full-time town administrator.
“We’re just getting going on it now, but we’ll look at updating the job qualifications and description,” he said.
He said the board did not have time to start the review until this month because it has been busy with other matters, such as the town budget. It has had to hold extra meetings to take care of all the business, he said.
Shea-Sullivan also has been busy, as she has taken on the duties of the town administrator in addition to her position as administrative assistant.
“It’s a challenge,” she said. A resident has been working part-time to assist Shea-Sullivan as part of a Senior Citizen Tax Work-off Program, she said.
Phelan said the board approved hiring a part-time assistant to help handle the workload, but the position has not been filled and is not posted. “She was doing a lot of extra work, beyond her normal hours,” he said.
Shea-Sullivan earns an annual salary of $45,000, or $11,250 per 12-week appointment.
She said she plans to apply for the permanent position when it becomes available. She has worked as assistant town administrator since 2006, but declined to reveal her prior work experience.
Phelan said the Select Board also plans to review the fire chief job description and post it by the end of the year. The board is considering making some major changes to the job, he said.
“Some of the selectmen have expressed thoughts about restructuring the department and going back to having a part-time chief, while still maintaining a full-time presence,” he said. “We’re going to review everything.”
In an interview at the fire station last week, while wearing a Southampton Fire Department shirt with “Chief Kaleta” printed on the front, Kaleta said he was interested in pursuing the full-time position.
“Morale in the department seems to be good,” he said. “People on the street seem happy I’m here.”
He said he has been a volunteer firefighter in town for more than 20 years, and was named deputy chief when Hyde was appointed the first full-time chief in 2006.
As interim chief, he collects a paycheck based on an annual salary of $70,000. That means each 12-week appointment pays $17,500.
When Kaleta was appointed interim chief, Cauley said Kaleta would continue to work his full-time job in the Highway Department, although he would sometimes have to leave work sites to respond to emergencies.
But according to state law, an employee cannot collect paychecks simultaneously from two municipal jobs, except in a few specific situations, so Kaleta was placed on unpaid leave from the Highway Department. He was taken off the department’s payroll on July 13 and added to the Fire Department payroll the following workday, according to town records.
Cauley said the Highway Department is struggling without its eighth employee, who worked as a mechanic. “It’s killing us, and things are going to get harder when we try to do everything we need to before winter,” he said. “But we’ll get along. This is the best thing for the town right now.”
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.