By Jonathan Phelps
---- — WENHAM — Selectmen are working on a contract extension for interim Town Administrator Mark Andrews that will keep him at the helm for another year.
But several residents disagree with the plan and have circulated an online petition urging selectmen to start a search for a permanent administrator as soon as possible.
While the proposed extension will likely drop Andrews’ “interim” title until next April, selectmen still plan to move forward with a search for a town administrator, as promised when Andrews was first hired in March 2012, said board Chairman Ken Whittaker.
If approved, this will be Andrews’ second contract extension in a little over a year. His current contract ends June 30.
“We are still working on the details,” Whittaker said, noting the board still needs to vote on the contract extension.
The main reason for the contract extension is to get through next year’s budget season and give selectmen time to conduct the search — which could include Andrews as a candidate, Whittaker said.
Andrews, the former Wareham town administrator, was hired on an interim basis to replace outgoing Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren. Andrews’ original contract went through August 2012, but was later extended to June 30.
Andrews could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Whittaker said it is unlikely a town administrator search would be completed before the budget process gears up in the fall.
“We thought it was important to have consistent leadership through that process,” Whittaker said. “The town administrator is certainty an important part in that process.”
He admitted the search is starting later than anticipated as the town worked through some more pressing issues, such as hiring a consultant firm to get the town through the budget season in the wake of the resignation of Paula Bartlett, the town’s finance director.
Selectmen also held off as the town’s Government Study Committee developed a report, which could have included a recommended change to the administrator’s position.
The online petition started by resident Michelle Bailey asks selectmen to put together a search committee and present candidates for the permanent position by Oct. 1. It has received 53 signatures.
“We can’t really wait another year,” Bailey said. “And what is the reason to wait another year?”
Bailey mentioned the recent search for a new town administrator in Manchester-by-the-Sea, which attracted 80 applicants.
“It seems to me there are good-quality candidates looking for a job as town administrator on the North Shore right now,” Bailey said. “What candidates will be available in a year from now, I don’t know.”
She said it also might be a distraction to have Andrews in the running for the position leading up to Town Meeting, especially if selectmen decided not to choose him for the permanent job.
Former Finance Committee member Catherine Harrison said she was surprised by the selectmen’s decision. Now would be the time to go through a comprehensive search because there are less pressing issues going on in town, she said.
Such a search allows the town to consider more candidates and have more people involved in the screening process, she said.
“There has been a commitment to a comprehensive search that would include community members and gather feedback from the community and other people in Town Hall,” Harrison said.
Whittaker said Andrews has done a “thorough” job and has been a big help to the board, especially during the budget process. Andrews has also been involved in changes to the Council on Aging, a project to update the town’s website and a study into the Fire Department structure, he said.
“I enjoy working with Mark very much,” Whittaker said, declining further comment citing Andrews as a possible candidate for the job moving forward.