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Salem considering hiring an assistant town manager

SALEM - The sudden resignation of Community Development Director William Scott has led Salem town officials to explore various options for filling Scott's shoes, with the possibility of hiring a new assistant town manager given serious consideration.

During Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting, Town Manager Keith Hickey encouraged the board to share their thoughts on the matter.

"This is an opportunity for us to try and evaluate where we are as a town," Hickey said. "With this vacancy upon us in June, the need will be critical for the future of Salem."

After a dozen years working in Salem, Scott submitted his resignation last week, stating he'd accepted a position much closer to his Newburyport, Mass., home.

Scott, who earned a salary of $92,705 last year, will leave Salem in late June.

In the wake of Scott's resignation, Hickey suggested moving the Health and Human Services Department under the planning division, while having a new assistant town manager oversee recreation and senior services, among other things.

"I think that's where we're headed, having someone who's a planner as well as an administrator," Human Resources Director Molly McKean told the board.

McKean said that "time is of the essence" in filling the position, because Scott's impending vacancy means many responsibilities would immediately fall on Hickey.

Selectman Michael Lyons urged fellow board members against making a hasty decision.

"We could have a goal-setting session," he suggested. "Me, I'd like to see some data before we make any final decision."

Chairman Everett McBride Jr. agreed.

"Obviously, we have some ideas for a job description," he said. "I'd like to see it all on paper, see it all laid out."

Selectman Stephen Campbell said he felt it would be "imprudent" to vote on the matter before that happens, noting he only learned of the matter this past weekend and needed more time to digest the information.

"I'm not ready to jump off any bridges yet," he said.

Selectman Patrick Hargreaves said he agreed on the need for an assistant town manager but felt many questions should be addressed before that happens.

"We need to determine the salary and what we're looking for," Hargreaves said.

Based on comparable job descriptions from other communities, McKean estimated that such a position "would be in the $70,000 to $90,000" salary range. The position would be union-exempt, with the new employee receiving the same benefits package as Hickey.

"I think we could get someone in the middle of that range comfortably," she said.

"All I can tell you right now is get me all the information, and I'll look at it with an open mind," Hargreaves said.

Lyons said he's been contemplating Salem's need for an assistant town manager for the past several years, though he takes issue with the title "assistant town manager."

"What we really need to do is come up with a better name," he said. "Because this person will really have a dual role."

Hickey urged the board to act on the issue in a timely manner.

"We can take this as slow as the board wants to take this, understanding you're losing the ability to move forward in a very busy economic climate," he told them. "This position is necessary whether it's 2013 or 2014."

"There's a lot of things going on in this community to have a seat be empty and have nobody filling those responsibilities," he added.

The board will discuss the issue further during an upcoming meeting.

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