BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — TOPSFIELD — When she was hired after a long career in the seaside town of Winthrop, Topsfield’s first town administrator viewed her role as a transitional one in a town that was undergoing a sea change in municipal government.
After six years on the job, Virginia “Ginna” Wilder is retiring. While she’s in transition, she is not gone from her office in Town Hall just yet. She will work part time as selectmen go about seeking her replacement.
“I think Topsfield is a great place to work,” Wilder said. “I’ve been pleased and amazed at the support of the staff, the selectmen and the residents in helping me out.” She hoped she had accomplished the task of transitioning Topsfield’s form of government from one led in the past by a three-member Board of Selectmen with an executive secretary to one led by five selectmen and a town administrator.
The town has advertised for “qualified consultants” to assist it in recruiting applicants. Consultants have until Feb. 6 to apply, with requests for proposals available from the Board of Selectmen at Town Hall, 8 W. Common St., Topsfield, MA 01983.
Wilder’s contract with the town expired Dec. 31. She’s working three days a week on an interim basis, according to Donna Rich, the selectmen’s secretary.
“Ginna is an absolute gem,” Selectman Martha Morrison said. “We were so lucky she was our first town administrator.”
Wilder was hired in the fall of 2006 at age 58 and went to work on Jan. 2, 2007.
In her first full fiscal year on the job, she earned $92,666, according to budget documents from the Finance Committee on the town’s website. Her salary is about $100,000, Selectman Dick Gandt and Wilder said.
In the present fiscal year, the town administrator position is budgeted at $109,011, an 8 percent increase above the year before. Gandt said that the increase is because the town knew it was going to get a new administrator, and it had to budget money for the transition. Gandt said Wilder informed the board a year ago that she planned to retire at the end of her second-year contract and agreed this past summer to a six-month interim post.
Wilder was hired from her native Winthrop, where she had been the chief administrative officer/executive secretary and the town’s director of community development. She had more than 28 years of experience in Winthrop.
Gandt said Wilder has been a success here.
“She’s got us off and running with town administrator, and it’s worked out,” Gandt said.
Gandt, who is the only member of the board left from the one that hired Wilder, said the key initiative that marked her tenure was her ability to organize town government and get everyone talking to one another.
“She started to organize and improve the communication within the various groups within the town, including grouping key functions,” Gandt said. “She has a monthly meeting of all departments, and she has this grouping of the finance team and public safety team. ... The people thing is crucial in my mind, and that effort that she did has helped the town.”
Morrison said Wilder brought an air of professionalism and organization to town government, and she did so in a pleasant, professional manner.
“We can always rely on her for guidance and advice,” Morrison said.
Wilder started working for the town of Winthrop in December 1977, she said, starting in the Office of Community Development. In the 1970s, she also worked as a teacher and an assistant principal at the former St. Mary High in Lawrence. She also worked for 18 months as a grant administrator in Ipswich.
She worked as Winthrop’s chief administrative officer/executive secretary from 1989 until June 2006, when she was not picked as the Winthrop’s first town manager amid a switch to a town council form of government.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.