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Monday, May 19, 2014
by Robin Murphy
Although I voted for Rob Greenstein as well as the other Team New Castle candidates, Adam Brodsky and Lisa Katz, I have been disappointed that their promises to bring “small business mindset” and “a new approach” to New Castle town government have so far been empty. The appointment of Jill Shapiro as Town Administrator—with no attempt to invite other candidates to apply—raises serious questions.
The residents had been told that Mrs. Shapiro, a ten-year Town employee, was being appointed to that role for 6 months to provide some continuity and knowledge of what had been going on in town hall while the new board got situated. It was said that this appointment could be renewed based on a vote by the full Town Board. But through FOIL [Freedom of Information Act] requests, it’s come to light that this contract is actually a 2-year term with a one-time 6-month review provision.
We are about a month and a half away from the end of the 6 months, yet there has been no discussion by the Board of plans to open up the position to interview other qualified candidates. For an administrative position in Bronxville, 12 qualified candidates were recently interviewed before a final candidate was selected. There is nothing to indicate that our town would not elicit similar interest from qualified candidates if we were to hold an open (and transparent) interview process. While Supervisor Greenstein applauds the work Mrs. Shapiro has been doing and publicly states that she is one of his very best decisions so far, I am unable to see on what basis he makes this statement.
Jill Shapiro seems like an amply qualified town clerk but frankly, if she remains as Town Administrator, it is a blown opportunity for the town of New Castle. Not only does she not have the basic educational prerequisite for that position, but she lacks the leadership, people skills, budget skills, and the policy background of Administrators in forward-thinking towns.
The Town Administrator should be a best-practices, lead-by-example person, someone capable of engaging the public as well as one who connects and motivates personnel. Logistics, process improvement practices, problem solving abilities, consensus building, and the ability to listen and work with others, needs to be encoded in the DNA of a successful Town Administrator. In her years of service to our town, Mrs. Shapiro hasn’t demonstrated that she possesses these necessary skills.
The Town of New Castle deserves to have our staff performing at their highest level. That means addressing mistakes in the past and putting policy in place to ensure things like misuse of town property (vehicles and equipment) and harassment (anti-Semitic, sexual, or other) are not tolerated in any way. Unless we have a Town Administrator who rolls up her or his sleeves and is proactive, not merely reactive, we will continue to see morale at Town Hall and other departments remain at what appears to be an all-time low and service quality diminish.
Leadership cannot be by proxy. It needs to be top-down. A void of leadership leads to more problems. Right now, we seem to be going down that road. For example, simply replacing one failed DPW Commissioner with one who had previously held this position—yet was replaced because of problems when he was the head—is not impressive. Again, where is the transparency? For this job too, no open search conducted?
Openly seek the best administrator
A public (e.g., New York Times advertisement) open call to fill the Town Administrator position would likely bring in plenty of qualified applicants with the necessary skill set, qualifications and experience on the planning level. Our town deserves that process to play out. If the job is put out publicly, Mrs. Shapiro should be invited to interview. But there should be a committee put together to evaluate this position and give New Castle residents the most qualified person to hold this job. As it stands at this point, the application process for intern positions with our town government is more open and competitive than that of Town Administrator or DPW Commissioner. This does not sound like the “new approach” many of us voted for last fall.
The Town Board and Supervisor need to remember that although they won our votes last fall, they are expected to continue working for our vote every day of their tenure.
Related: Was Jill Shapiro appointed town administrator for six months or for two years?, NCNOW.org, 5/19/14