WEST NEWBURY — Selectmen spent Saturday evening interviewing three candidates who seek to become the town’s new finance director.
The board plans to ask the committee that initially screened applicants for its impressions of the three men and conduct some additional reference checks before entering into negotiations with their top choice by mid-July.
Selectman Tom Atwood arrived at the 1910 Town Office Building with boxes of pizza and a cooler of canned sodas for all in attendance before the interviews got under way shortly after 4 p.m.
The board followed the same process for each hour-long session, receiving an opening statement from the candidate, then taking turns asking questions for about a half hour and allowing the candidate a half hour at the end to ask questions of the board. Two of the candidates asked the board if creation of a town administrator’s post was in West Newbury’s future, but the board said it was unlikely at this point.
Selectmen’s questions ranged from broad inquiries about the candidates’ financial philosophy, managerial style and budgeting approach, to more specific questions about internal controls, payroll and financial reporting, grant writing, snow and ice accounts, free cash ratios, municipal health insurance reform and assessment calculations for the regional school district.
Former Selectman John McGrath requested and was granted permission to ask a few questions of each of the candidates at the end of each interview.
Also present was Joe Anderson of the Finance Committee, Chief Assessor Karen Rassias, Public Works Director Gary bill, Town Clerk/Town Counsel Mike McCarron, selectmen’s assistant Kris Pyle and Susan Follansbee of the Historical Commission.
The first candidate was Charles Panagopoulos of Natick, who currently works as a financial consultant and adviser in Weymouth. Panagopoulos described himself as “very conservative” when it comes to finances. he sees budgeting as a task that requires “a lot of common sense” and said his approach to building a budget is “analytical, tedious and meticulous.”
George Zoukee of Provincetown was most recently employed as director of finance for the Transportation Corridor Agencies Toll Roads in Irvine, Calif., but took advantage of a buy-out offer in May 2010 because he wanted to return to the East Coast. he said his financial and managerial philosophies emphasize transparency and accessibility. Zoukee favors a “hands-on” approach in working with others and felt his 12 years as executive director of the new Hampshire Municipal Bond Bank would be an asset in West Newbury.
“If you want to bring in someone who will be tight with a budget, bring in someone who has worked in new Hampshire, ” he said.
With 28 years of municipal finance experience, Warren Sproul worked most recently as director of municipal finance in Quincy, the town where he also currently resides. Sproul says he is a “process-oriented implementer” who believes in collaboration and “expects the best of people.” he said his mantra is “cheaper, faster, better” as long as it is consistent with state law and the character of the community.
When Sproul asked selectmen what they were looking for in the next finance director, Atwood said he wanted someone with “honesty, integrity and transparency.”
“There’s going to be problems, but if there is a problem, then bring it to our attention,” Atwood said.
Selectmen Chairman Albert Knowles Jr. said at the top of his list is someone who understands the importance of communication and becoming familiar with financial systems already in place before proposing changes.
Selectman Dick Cushing told the candidate that thanks to the 20-year financial stewardship of the previous finance director, the town had accrued the means to support any project voters deemed worthwhile. As long as the project was sufficiently researched and the case adequately made at Town Meeting, voters would generally support it — and had the financial wherewithal to do so, said Cushing. it would be “a big disappointment” if that were no longer the case, he said.
Former Finance Director Tracy Blais left her post on April 19 after selectmen decided not to renew her contract. When she left, her salary was $113,000, plus a $3,000 longevity bonus. She now earns $115,000 as a town administrator for Newbury.
More than 40 people applied for the vacancy, with eight candidates selected for interview by the screening committee. Per the finance director’s bylaw, the committee chose three finalists for the selectmen to interview.
Salary range for the position is $80,000 to $110,000.
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