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Southampton administrator finalists talk successes, struggles in interviews

  • William M. Manzi III, a finalist for the job of Southampton's town administrator. <br/><br/>REBECCA EVERETT.
  • Craig J. Kleman, a finalist for the job of Southampton's town administrator. <br/><br/>REBECCA EVERETT.
  • Michael A. Szlosek, the Select Board's top choice for the job of Southampton's town administrator. <br/><br/>REBECCA EVERETT.

SOUTHAMPTON — The three finalists for the job of town administrator told the Select Board and a dozen onlookers about their successes and challenges in municipal government during their public interviews Tuesday.

The board originally scheduled a meeting for Wednesday night to choose the best candidates, but decided at the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting to check their references and backgrounds first. Board member Michael L. Phelan Jr. said the board is scheduled to deliberate June 4, but whether that happens depends on the progress of the vetting. He said the board is considering hiring a company to do background checks and sending town officials to interview former employers.

In their interviews, finalists William M. Manzi of Methuen, Michael A. Szlosek of Ludlow, and Craig J. Kleman of Portsmouth, N.H., touted successes, from budget surpluses to completed capital projects. They also admitted they’ve made hard choices and dealt with difficult personnel issues in other municipalities.

William M. Manzi III

The board asked Manzi, the former mayor of Methuen, if his experience in a city of 47,000 with a $130 million budget would translate to Southampton, with a population of less than 6,000 and a budget of just $14 million.

He said he could get acclimated and would gladly accept that the role comes with far less power than a mayor has. “I’d be more than happy to leave that power where it belongs, with the board.”

He said that one of his greatest successes was balancing a budget in his first year as mayor in 2006, when the town narrowly avoided laying off 60 public safety workers. Negotiations were key, he said.

“Two different years, we got three public safety unions to give back 10 percent of their pay to avoid layoffs,” he said. “It was worth $3.6 million to the community and it was the reason we were able to keep afloat.”

Audience members James Palermo and John Sheehan questioned Manzi about a situation in which he fired Methuen’s police chief. Joseph Solomon was later reinstated with a one-year unpaid suspension when the state’s Civil Service Commission ruled in 2010 that Manzi did not act appropriately in firing him. The commission’s report accused Manzi of having political motivations in the firing.

Manzi said he had no choice but to fire Solomon after he mismanaged federal grants, costing the city almost $200,000, and then refused to cooperate with city officials, causing the department to “disintegrate.”

Michael A. Szlosek

Szlosek, the town administrator of Athol, said he wants to take a pay cut to work in Southampton because it is closer to his home in Ludlow. Athol has a residency requirement and he does not like living away from his family, he said.

He said that as an attorney, he excels at negotiating contracts and other legal work, and he has gained skills in financial management while working as town manager or administrator in Athol, Uxbridge, South Hadley and Ludlow.

“I’m really good at bringing out savings,” he said. In Athol, a “tremendous” budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year was so large he initially thought that a dozen jobs would have to be cut. But he said he pinched pennies in the budget until only two positions, one full-time and one part-time, were lost.

He told the board he prefers being a town administrator to being a manager with greater autonomy. “My style is collaborative, which works well as an administrator. I try to build consensus,” he said.

When Sheehan asked him about moving around to different administrative jobs, he acknowledged that officials in Uxbridge did not renew his contract and said that his three-month stay as South Hadley’s administrator was due to a difference in opinion about what the job would be like.

Craig J. Kleman

Kleman told the board he has experience in many municipal governments; he has been an interim or permanent administrator in Becket and Merrimac; East Montpelier and Lyndon, Vt.; and Atkinson, Plaistow, Seabrook and Epping, N.H.

He said he excels in grant administration and has managed capital projects including the construction of a fire station in East Montpelier, Vt., and improvements to Becket’s fire station.

He also said that he has an open-door policy and wants to know if colleagues or residents aren’t happy with something. “When you work in small towns, you have to be accessible,” he said.

Phelan questioned him about working less than three years in every administrative position.

Kleman said several of his jobs were interim administrator positions, and he left other posts for various reasons, including a bigger paycheck, wanting to be closer to his family, and disagreeing with the actions of a Select Board.

He left his town administrator job in Becket after less than two years when the Select Board pressured him about complaints from other Town Hall employees.

He blamed the bad reviews on a project he led to replace the aging computer server in Town Hall. The drawn-out process caused a lot of tension among employees and made him somewhat unpopular, he said. “I bore the brunt of it,” he said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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