St. John preps for Cheshire interim town admin. role

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CHESHIRE — A former selectman now finds himself answering to, rather than sitting on, the Select Board.

Ed St. John IV is officially the new part-time town administrator — at least for the next four months — after inking a deal with the board to be the interim replacement for Mark Webber, who is retiring.

As the probationary period nears its May 1 end, the board will review St. John's performance and possibly offer him at least a one-year permanent contract.

Interim or not, St. John is ready to help lead his hometown's municipal government.

"I'm focused on doing the work as if I was the [permanent] town administrator," he told The Eagle on Wednesday. "I'm ready to hit the ground sprinting."

Following behind-closed-doors negotiations during Tuesday night's weekly meeting, the Select Board agreed to pay St. John $769.23 each week. The salary is based on dividing the annual pay of $40,000 budgeted for the position by 52 weeks. St. John will primarily work 12 hours on Tuesday, the big meeting day for town boards in Cheshire, and 12 hours on Thursday or split those hours with another day as needed.

A month after interviewing three finalists, followed by divisive, sometimes tense debate, board members Robert Ciskowski and Chairwoman Carol Francesconi last week agreed to the interim concept as a solution to picking a new town hall boss.

"I think we made the decision with the best interests of Ed, the boards and the town in mind. This will give use continuity," she said in a phone interview with The Eagle.

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The board had been deadlocked over picking Webber's successor, in part because St. John had resigned from the board in early September to seek the 24-hour-a-week job. St. John was Franesconi's top pick all along, while Ciskowski advocated for Tom Spiro from Worthington, who had a town-administrator-type job in Conway for seven years. Two weeks ago, Ciskowski said he could break the deadlock, and by the Dec. 4 meeting had warmed to initially hiring St. John on an interim basis.

A Cheshire native and local attorney who will keep practicing law, St. John began shadowing Webber on Tuesday to begin the transition.

"Working with Mark will make it easy for me as we both know the issues, I know the people at Town Hall," St. John said.

Webber, who had St. John as an intern in 2003 at town hall, said his pupil is a quick study.

"Ed has broad local knowledge and is a quick study on municipal administration. The selectmen made the right choice," Webber said in an email to The Eagle.

Webber had planned to retire Nov. 1 after 11 years as town administrator, but remained on until the Select Board finally chose his successor. He anticipates staying on until the end of December, and being available for consultation after that.

"Mark has always been dedicated to what is in the best interest of the town of Cheshire," Francesconi said. "He's never left us high and dry."

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


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