SOUTHAMPTON — Town administrators have been churning through positions lately, according to Bernard Lynch of Community Paradigm Associates, the consulting firm hired to help the town find a new town administrator.

“At this point, roughly three-quarters of the towns have changed over their [town administrators] over the last four or so years,” Lynch said. “With that type of turnover there aren’t necessarily the people out there with the background that can quickly move into these positions … That’s a challenge we have across the commonwealth.”

Over the last few months, Lynch said, there weren’t many applicants for Southampton’s top job. Bigger towns and cities aren’t getting lots of resumes either. Brookline received 13 applications for a position. Arlington, population 45,000, drew 19.

Southampton’s call for applications drew 15 responses. Lynch hoped to bring three finalists to the Select Board, but it didn’t turn out that way. Eight applicants had the necessary background and experience. Six dropped out, including the third finalist. Losing a finalist happened in Southampton before, Lynch said.

Disappearing finalists and a trickle of applicants, qualified or not, is a sign of the tight labor market. The churn among employed, seasoned and capable administrators means most are in a new job, standing pat where they are. Others are retiring, creating more competition for good administrators.

Ed Gibson retired as town administrator on Dec. 31, but is still seen around Town Hall, helping out during the transition. Lynch’s firm was engaged to find his replacement on Aug. 31.

“As we go into a community [we] spend a good amount of time … speaking with community members,” Lynch said. “We made a point here of speaking with the Select Board members and other stakeholders.”

Lynch had conversations with residents about what they value in an administrator. The company hosted a community forum that drew useful feedback. Questionnaires went out, seeking answers about ideals and preferences.

Intense outreach began on Oct. 13. Advertisements were placed with the Mass. Municipal Association. Outreach to municipal and alumni organizations began. The company tapped into its own database of over 400 administrators to see if anyone might move from where they are or might be available. Recent retirees are in the mix.

“We do a very candidate-specific outreach,” Lynch said. “We go through that database, as well as reaching out to other individuals in particular geographic areas that might be a good fit… to build up as large a pool as possible.”

The initial deadline was Nov. 10. Paradigm continued to advertise, interested in seeing who else might apply, and continued to build up the candidate pool. Several good candidates applied before the first deadline, Lynch said, and Southampton’s reputation wasn’t a problem.

“We didn’t hear anything, that Southampton had issues that they didn’t want to deal with,” Lynch said. It was “other responsibilities or other opportunities more in line with what they were looking for.”

Lynch summarized the two finalists he wanted Select Board members to consider. The first was Ryan McNutt, most recently town manager in Palmer.
McNutt was city manager in Claremont, New Hampshire and served as city administrator in Lancaster for one contract. He resigned from the Palmer office in October. According to a media reports, McNutt was fired from the Claremont job in 2019.

McNutt was chief of staff to the mayor of Fitchburg, Lisa Wang, and drew good reviews for his work. Lynch also heard good feedback on McNutt from his Palmer coworkers.

The second candidate Lynch presented for the Select Board’s consideration was Scott Szczebak.

Szczebak resigned as director of human resources in Wellesley last July. He was also human resources director for six years in Chicopee. He lives in Palmer. According to an article in The Swellesley Report, Szczebak has since been a finalist for the town administrator seat open in Belchertown.

Szczebak holds a law degree from Western New England College. Lynch said he also holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Lynch cited feedback from the Southampton community about the importance of working well with citizen committees. He also heard residents’ suggestions that a new town administrator be well-versed in dealing with grants, since the town never has enough money.

Interviews with McNutt and Szczebak were scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. The interviews were hosted live.

Coverage of the interviews and the decision will appear in the Jan. 25 edition of The Reminder.

dpruyne@thereminder.com | + posts