Fomer Board Member Michael Dutton Is Hired to Post After Other Finalist Pulls Name from Consideration

Only hours after learning that one of the two remaining candidates had withdrawn his name from consideration, the Oak Bluffs selectmen yesterday voted to hire former selectman Michael Dutton as the new town administrator.

Mr. Dutton will replace Casey Sharpe. who resigned abruptly last month and ends her tenure with the town this week.

The vote was 3-0 with one abstention.

A specially appointed screening committee last week narrowed a field of five candidates down to two: Mr. Dutton and Stanley J. Arend, a former town administrator in California who also has Island roots. Mr. Arend has spent summers on the Island since he was a child, and his family still owns a home in Oak Bluffs.

But Mr. Arend took himself out of the race late Sunday night, sending a letter to board chairman Duncan Ross notifying him that he had accepted another position in California.

"My heart is still in Oak Bluffs, and perhaps timing and circumstances could be more propitious in the future," Mr. Arend wrote.

Selectman Kerry Scott urged selectmen to re-advertise the position in light of Mr. Arend's decision.

"Let the record state that I am not in opposition to the candidate, I am opposed to the process," said Ms. Scott, who abstained from the vote.

Mr. Dutton, who is an attorney but does not practice law, served as a selectman for seven years before stepping down last month to apply for the position.

Wearing a dress shirt and tie, Mr. Dutton sat before his former colleagues and several members of the audience during the one-man interview session yesterday, answering questions on everything from town finances to where he felt the town administrator should sit during selectmen's meeting. The session lasted for about an hour.

Selectman Roger Wey asked Mr. Dutton about his communication style, and emphasized that the town administrator should embrace the ideals of open government.

Mr. Dutton said he would make himself available to the public and the press to answer questions. He said he would remain apolitical and leave decision-making to the selectmen.

"I realize it's not the role of the administrator to take a political stance or make political statements," Mr. Dutton said.

Ms. Scott pressed Mr. Dutton for his views on the personal service contracts in Oak Bluffs that have come under scrutiny in recent weeks. The contracts are under review by the division of local services of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. Mr. Dutton said he had no reason to think there was anything illegal about the contracts, adding that they have been used in the past to recruit and retain qualified candidates.

He did say the town may want to review the specifics of the contracts.

Paul Strauss, a member of the screening committee who chose the two final candidates, said the fact that there was only one candidate in the end should not count against Mr. Dutton.

"You would be making a very good decision," Ms. Strauss said.

But fellow screening committee member Anne Gallagher said the town should readvertise the position and cast a wider net in order to gather candidates.

"It's such a very important position. I worry we didn't advertise more widely," she said.

Former selectman Linda Marinelli asked Mr. Dutton if he would work to make town records more accessible.

Mr. Dutton said he would like to see the tapes of executive session meetings transcribed into minutes, and would like to see the minutes of selectmen meetings - both regular and executive session - posted on the town web site.

Anne Margetson questioned the practice of the town administrator sitting in the middle of selectmen during their meetings. She said she checked with other towns, and the common practice is for the town administrator to sit off to the side.

"I will be happy to sit anywhere you tell me," Mr. Dutton answered with a smile.

Ms. Scott also pushed for the position to be re-advertised, but a majority of selectmen felt they had interviewed the right candidate for the job.

"We already have a very strong candidate. The healthy thing for the town is to choose [Mr. Dutton] and move forward," said selectman Greg Coogan.

Following the meeting, Mr. Coogan said he was excited about Mr. Dutton's hiring.

"He'll be good for this town. He is a great communicator who seems to connect with a lot of people," said Mr. Coogan.