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Candidate retracts comments on town administrator position


June 17, 2010
WAKEFIELD — Republican Congressional candidate Frank Guinta is retracting his recommendation that a part time town administrator would be sufficient to run Wakefield.

Currently, selectmen are looking for a full time replacement for former Town Administrator Robin Frost, who departed for another municipal position with the Town of Gorham last month. A Town Administrator runs the daily operations of the town and is the liaison between selectmen and the department heads. It has been a full time position for many years.

At a Concerned Residents Of Wakefield (C.R.O.W.) meeting on June 7, Guinta, a former two-term Manchester mayor, told the audience that the town really doesn't need a full time town administrator. The meeting was held at Cindy's Restaurant and Guinta said he was aware the meeting would be on television.

Guinta is ultimately trying to obtain the seat in New Hampshire's First Congressional District currently held by U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter. His first obstacle is the Republican Primary in September.

Guinta made his comment after someone in the audience yelled out that he'd be a good town administrator. Then, a discussion ensued about whether it should be full or part time. Guinta interrupted his own monolog in order to address the issue.

"I agree with the part time suggestion," said Guinta. "If the hiring is still open maybe I can slip my resume in. I'd be happy to do it. You can absolutely do it with a part timer."

Guinta was clearly joking about doing the job himself. He to be appeared serious about the number of hours he thought the job would take.

There's no telling how many people saw Guinta make the comment because the C.R.O.W. meeting has played several times on the Public Education Government Channel, which is channel three.

When a reporter e-mailed the campaign seeking more information about his opinion, Guinta backed off via e-mail from campaign staffer Sean Thomas on June 11.

Thomas stated that Guinta based his opinion on something C.R.O.W. member said. Thomas stated he personally spoke to Guinta and his driver about the C.R.O.W. meeting.

"Frank has no interest in involving himself in the selection process of the next town administrator and he strongly believes in local control," wrote Thomas. "He personally has no opinion as to whether Wakefield should hire a full-time or part-time administrator."

In a second e-mail, Thomas said Guinta retracts the statement he made at C.R.O.W. entirely.

Prior to Guinta's introductory speech, C.RO.W. members had a chance to talk about what's happening in Wakefield. During that time, resident Steve Brown announced that he asked selectmen to consider the possibility of hiring a part-time town administrator, but they resisted.

'We can't do that… We've got too many employees for a part time administrator,' Brown quoted the selectmen as saying. Brown also questioned why the town needs a town administrator when it already has a number of department heads and a secretary.

At the selectmen's meeting on June 9, Brown again asked the board to consider looking for a part-time employee rather than a full-timer.

Chairman Ken Paul replied he didn't mean that the town had too many employees. Rather, Paul said he meant to say that the town is a large organization and a town administrator helps funnel information to the board.

The town of Wakefield has 23 employees and an annual operating budget of about $4.2 million, according to the town's public notice seeking a new town administrator.

Brown talked about the town of Middleton, which doesn't have a town administrator, but its selectmen meet four times per month.

But Paul said Wakefield shouldn't compare itself to Middleton. Paul said a better comparison would be to Alton. Both towns have populations that balloon in the summer. Alton and Wakefield are also more similar in terms of land area and geographic features, said Paul.

"I wouldn't protect the position if it wasn't warranted," said Paul. "To get a part-time employee for that position, you'd have to find someone who is retired or can't get a job someplace else."

At one point, Paul said the town administrator interacts with other entities such as the school district and the chamber of commerce.

Brown and resident David Lee rejected Paul's assertion, saying that Frost didn't have anything to do with the schools.

If candidates for the position are too expensive, selectmen would consider looking at hiring a consultant, said Paul. Such a consultant would likely come from Municipal Resources Inc. in Meredith.

Selectman also said it wouldn't be a good business practice to have full time town employees reporting to a part time town administrator. Plus, it's valuable to have a person on staff who has a management degree and is familiar with the legal system. A town administrator would rely less on the town attorney than selectmen if they had to run Wakefield by themselves. Also, it takes a while for a new selectman to get caught up to speed. Every year there is a chance a board member will lose an election and all his or her previous experience would be lost, selectmen said.

At the end of the June 9 meeting, Budget Committee member and C.R.O.W. vice chairman Charlie Edwards told the selectmen that they had handled their business well — even without having a town administrator at their side.

Former Town Administrator Robin Frost said the position must be full time in order to be effective. Some of her former responsibilities in Wakefield included handling personnel issues and legal issues, keeping the town updated on legislation, being a sounding board for department heads, preparing elected officials for meetings, answering press questions, and budgeting.

"No, they couldn't do it well with a part time administrator," said Frost. "It just wouldn't work."

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