The Oak Bluffs select board named town accountant Deborah Potter as their new town administrator Tuesday, after reviewing candidates both internal and external during an extended two-day interview process this week.
Ms. Potter has been the town accountant since 2017, and was reappointed to the position this past February. Prior to her municipal role, she was a longtime manager at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, serving as assistant airport manager and subsequently as acting airport manager from 2015 to 2016.
Contract negotiations will begin imminently, led by two select board members. Acting town administrator Wendy Brough, who is also the former human resources director, will continue on as administrative assistant to the town administrator.
The town administrator position has been vacant since March, when former town administrator Robert Whritenour left to take a job as Yarmouth town administrator. Mr. Whritenour, who held the position for a decade, commuted to the Island from Falmouth throughout his tenure.
Ms. Brough has been serving as acting town administrator in the interim.
The select board began a job search this winter, assisted by the University of Massachusetts Boston Collins Center for Public Management. A four-week local search for on-Island candidates was followed by a broader search.
But on Tuesday the board went local after all, voting unanimously to select Ms. Potter, a well-known and respected member of the Oak Bluffs community.
There were four finalists for the job — two internal and two external. The internal candidates were Ms. Potter and Ms. Brough. The other two finalists were David Williams, town administrator in Sherborn, and former state Rep. Jennifer Callahan, who worked as a municipal employee for the town of Oxford.
All four candidates were interviewed in person by the select board for 45 minutes each on Monday and Tuesday this week.
During the interviews, candidates fielded a barrage of questions about their organizational and municipal experience, ranging from experience with procurement and strategic planning to their opinions on future development and communication styles.
In her interview, Ms. Potter drew on her experience as town accountant and outlined a general vision of management defined by delegation and clear communication. She described herself as an initially reluctant candidate who saw herself as a “pathway to success [for the town], both short term and long term.”
“It’s not my role to create the vision and have the vision but to implement the vision of the board, who has been voted in,” Ms. Potter said. “But I can’t promise you on the budget side,” she added with a laugh.
She emphasized the importance of delegation and teamwork to create what she termed a “more reliable Oak Bluffs.”
She touched on the importance of clear communication and evaluation for department heads
“It’s not just about evaluating department heads, it’s also about . . . do they have the tools and the skills that they need to be successful. Part of that is listening, part of that is managing their leading, part is integrating the two,” she said.
Ms. Potter said if selected she would likely continue as town accountant simultaneously with the new town administrator position until her assistant is prepared to assume the full-time role.
After the interviews were done Tuesday, select board members convened briefly to deliberate, voting after only short discussion to appoint Ms. Potter. Board members expressed faith in Ms. Potter’s ability to execute her duties, especially budgetary responsibilities, and learn the rest on the job.
“This search has always been budget-centric,” board chairman Brian Packish said. “Deb represented this, it’s a very quick and clean answer . . . some may see that as a shortfall but I see that as a strength because that’s how you get business done.”
Selectman Ryan Ruley agreed. “I think she’s going to be able to coordinate personnel, I think she will have a level of accountability, I think there’s a high ceiling of professionalism . . . . I think she’s going to put us in a position to succeed,” he said.
Selectmen expressed their thanks to the other candidates, taking special note of Ms. Brough’s work as interim town administrator.
“She has risen to the occasion,” selectman Gail Barmakian said.
Ms. Potter, a longtime Island resident, served in the U.S. Marine Corps for eight years during the early years of her professional life, and went on to have a long career in the aviation industry, working at one point as an air traffic controller.
Ms. Potter’s brother-in-law, John, captains the fishing boat Skipper. She has two daughters, both of whom were raised on the Island and attended the Oak Bluffs School and the regional high school. Both achieved high academic success, as number one and number three in their classes.
During a regular select board meeting later Tuesday, Ms. Brough acknowledged the news gracefully, congratulating Ms. Potter on her appointment.
“I’d say say it’s a banner week for town accounting and it’s a banner week for Deb, and I congratulate Deb for her new appointment that she’s about to get,” Ms. Brough said. “I look forward to working with her and supporting her and her new role.”