Interim Cheshire town administrator has label removed - and a 3-year contract
CHESHIRE — Less than two months into the job, Ed St. John IV finally felt comfortable as Cheshire's interim part-time town administrator.
The Select Board had hired the Cheshire native in mid-December on a trial basis, giving him until May 1 to prove himself worthy of a three-year contract.
St. John replaced Mark Webber, who retired after a collective 11 years as the Town Hall boss.
"After Feb. 1, I had six weeks under my belt and started to settle in," St. John told the Eagle. "The transition for me was personal, as I have a criminal law practice and needed to find a balance."
St. John primarily works 12 hours on Tuesdays — those are the big meeting days for town boards in Cheshire — and 12 hours on Thursdays, or splits those hours with another day, as needed.
Juggling two careers has seemed to work in his favor.
"It made me a lot more efficient; I don't sweat the small stuff anymore," St. John said.
Select Board Chairwoman Carol Francesconi and Selectman Robert Ciskowski noticed that efficiency and recently decided to remove the interim tag. The two offered — and St. John agreed to — a three-year deal at an annual $40,000 salary, effective July 1. St. John will continue to work through June 30 at a weekly rate based on the $40,000 amount budgeted for the position.
"We felt he was doing a good job. His work was impressive, including his dealing with [town residents]," Francesconi said after Tuesday's weekly board meeting.
"He hit the ground running and he hasn't let up," Ciskowski said.
The Select Board has been down a member since St. John resigned from the three-person panel in early September, in order to apply for the town administrator position. The vacancy will be filled during the May town election.
The board initially interviewed nine applicants before choosing St. John and two others as finalists. After the final interviews at a public meeting, Ciskowski favored Tom Spiro, of Worthington, who had town administrator-related experience, while Francesconi had St. John as her top pick. Despite the divisive, sometimes tense debate, the two agreed to the interim concept as a compromise solution to filling the role of town administrator.
The board unity continued with the earlier-than-planned contract offer to St. John.
"It was a great vote of confidence," he said. "Since I started, we've been working well as a team."
Though lacking town administrator experience, St. John has been involved in town government. His municipal resume includes being the town moderator and serving as chairman of the town's master plan committee. He also was the town's superintendent of buildings and grounds, a duty that came with being a selectman. He gave up the superintendent job upon his resignation and will serve out the final months of his current term as moderator, a position up for election next May.
St. John is a graduate of Providence College, where he earned a certificate in public administration and, as a 21-year-old, interned with Webber in summer 2003. He has considered Webber a mentor since being elected a selectman in May 2017.
"Mark Webber was great during the transition. Coming in as a former selectman, I knew the players and issues, and that helped with the transition," St. John said.
The new town administrator's goal for the coming year is to "button up the budget" as soon as possible before the annual town meeting votes on it in June. St. John wants to begin discussions with department heads and the Select Board on long-range projects, such as capital improvements. St. John also would like the town to have quarterly all-boards meetings as one way to better communication within Town Hall.
Dick Lindsay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 413-496-6233.
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