Cheshire Select Board reaches deal, selects St. John as interim town administrator

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CHESHIRE — After a month of divisive, sometimes tense debate, the Select Board has finally chosen a new town administrator.

Pending successful negotiations, the current two-member board Tuesday night chose former selectman Ed St. John IV to succeed Mark Webber, albeit on an interim basis to start. Webber is retiring after a collective 11 years as the town's part-time town hall boss.

Initially, St. John would work from mid-December until May 1, with the option of being offered at least a one-year contract.

Typically, new hires in Cheshire are subject to a three-month probationary period, according to Select Board Chairwoman Carol Francesconi, but Webber suggested going a bit longer to give the board ample time to review St. John's performance.

"I think you'll be more comfortable with four months than three. Three months goes by quickly," he said.

Webber said he would stay on board until the end of December to help with the transition, which will likely include beginning to craft a proposed new municipal budget for fiscal 2020.

A Cheshire native and local attorney, St. John looks forward to working with all town officials, especially Webber. As a 21-year-old, St. John, who has a certificate in public administration, interned for Webber in the summer of 2003 at Cheshire Town Hall.

"When I was a college student he was a great mentor ... and he'll be a wonderful mentor again," St. John said in an Eagle phone interview after the board's decision.

The board had been sharply divided on picking a new Town Hall boss since interviewing St. John, Tom Spiro of Worthington and Marian Carr from Sandisfield on Nov. 1. The three finalists were chosen from nine applicants.

Francesconi had St. John as her top pick. Selectman Robert Ciskowski's front-runner was Spiro with neither budging from their choice after three consecutive weekly meetings debating the issue. The discussion the Tuesday before Thanksgiving was tension-filled between the two board members. The at-times terse debate ended abruptly, leaving the selection process up in the air.

The deadlock, in part, was due to St. John having resigned from the board in September so he could seek the part-time position that pays an annual salary of up to $40,000 for a three-day workweek.

Last week, Ciskowski said he was willing to break the deadlock and offered the interim scenario as a solution to move the selection process forward.

On Tuesday, Ciskowski was finally swayed by Francesconi backing St. John.

"I still like the experience of Tom Spiro, but I think I'll defer to your thinking," he said to the chairwoman.

Francesconi placed importance on someone who can hit the ground running.

"We need someone who has some idea of the town and is familiar with our town government," she said.

St. John was halfway through his first three-year term as a selectman when he resigned. He also has served as town moderator, chairman of the town's Master Plan Committee and superintendent of buildings and grounds, a duty that came with being a selectman. He gave up that unpaid position upon his resignation.

Of the three finalists, Spiro had the most municipal government experience, having held a town administrator-type position for seven years in Conway.

Carr's municipal government experience is limited to one year as town clerk in Otis. She is operations manager for Berkshire County Head Start.

Since last week's regular board meeting, Webber had contacted all three to see if they were still interested in the job a month after they were interviewed.

"Lo and behold, all three were still interested," he said.

"I'm surprised and glad all three are still interested," replied Ciskowski. "Maybe that says something about Cheshire."

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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