CHESHIRE — Cheshire is poised to name a new town administrator this week.
Whether the position is full- or part-time is up to Cheshire voters.
After interviewing three finalists for 45 minutes each on Thursday evening, the Select Board said it plans to deliberate on Tuesday and then choose a successor to Ed St. John IV, who resigned late last year for personal reasons.
The candidates are Kathleen Degnan, the former Pittsfield city solicitor; Alicia Fonash-Willett, assistant town clerk in Durham, Conn.; and Jennifer Morse, Ashfield’s full-time town administrator.
Residents at the June 14 annual town meeting will decide whether the next town administrator will be a full-timer, earning up to an annual salary of $85,000. Since its inception, Cheshire’s town administrator has been a part-time position that currently has a $40,000 annual salary for a 24-hour work week.
Morse told the board she won’t accept the job if it remains part-time, while Degnan and Fonash-Willett would still accept if offered the job. However Fonash-Willett said, “It would behoove the town to have someone full-time.”
The assistant town clerk in Durham since 2008, Fonash-Willett says her municipal government experience bodes well for her and Cheshire.
“I think being in the town clerk’s office is a nature progression to [town administrator]. Every day I deal with people on the state level, town boards and the residents,” she said.
Fonash-Willett says she will be approachable and honest with all who she comes in contact with and, personally, she sees this as a career move good for her and her family.
As the current IT coordinator in a town of 7,500 people, she said she would be an asset to Cheshire, which is looking to upgrade its municipal technology infrastructure.
She oversaw Durham’s project to technologically link the town’s seven municipal buildings.
“We’ve upgraded our servers, instituted fiber security and moved away from an [older] phone system to an IP voice-over system,” she noted.
Degnan brings to the table a law background, which reached all aspects of municipal government when she was Pittsfield’s city solicitor from January 2012 to January 2016. She previously held the post of assistant solicitor in Pittsfield and Westfield.
She highlighted her ability to negotiate labor and procurement contracts.
The veteran attorney said she worked with all department heads in Pittsfield and got to know local government by paying close attention to what department heads were doing.
“If you don’t respect all employees, it’s not going to work well,” she said. “You have to listen and accept other peoples’ opinions.”
Degnan vows to be open with townspeople and town officials through social media, the town website, local news media and on a one-on-one basis.
“If people call me I will answer their questions,” she said, “unless it’s about litigation.”
When asked why she’d want the Cheshire post after working in a city, Degnan replied, “It’s a small town, quaint. It’s just the right size, municipally, that I’d like to work for.”
Morse, of the three candidates, has the most varied municipal government experience. Before becoming Ashfield’s town administrator in February 2020, she served as an assistant assessor in Ashfield for nine years, and the same position in Shelburne for four years.
She also has been a selectwoman, the town clerk and served on the Board of Health for 11 years, all in her hometown of Rowe.
Becoming Ashfield’s day-to-day boss was baptism by fire as the coronavirus was about to ramp up.
“Thank God I had Board of Health experience going into the pandemic,” she said.
Morse, who helps manage a $5 million budget, says she relies on good department heads to do their jobs.
She has extensive experience in grant writing and overseeing grant applications for a variety of projects.
Morse plans to reach out and get to know everybody and organizations that deal with Cheshire, whose town administrator position would afford her a great opportunity.
“I like Ashfield, don’t get me wrong,” she said, “but I need something new; something different.”