And Then There Were Two:City Manager Finalists Revealed

The City Manager Screening Committee announced that two finalists, former Revere Mayor Tom Ambrosino and former Portland (ME) City Manager Mark Rees, have been chosen for consideration to be the next Chelsea city manager.

In a late Thursday meeting, which started with a short executive session to discuss the departure of two other finalists, the Screening Committee assembled – minus Barbara Salisbury – to announce their selections. The other members of the Committee were Juan Vega, Sharon Caulfield and School Supt. Mary Bourque.

“The work of the Committee has been completed,” said Committee member and former Lowell City Manager Bernie Lynch. “We started our work with about 30 applicants and worked down to 15 and then finalized it down to seven. We conducted several interviews and chose seven candidates and narrowed that down to four names and then proceeded forward to do the necessary reference checks. Over the last few days, two of the four finalists withdrew for professional reasons, saying it wasn’t a good fit for them. Following that, we now have two finalists we’re putting forward tonight.

“I was very impressed with the whole field of candidates we had,” he added. “Not everyone met the qualifications, but there was a good number. Chelsea was very attractive to mayors and municipal people. I was impressed with that.”

Both candidates are being asked not to speak to the media until public interviews have taken place via the City Council, and have declined to comment.

Ambrosino is a well-known quantity in Chelsea, having been the mayor of Revere from 2000-2011 and working closely on many initiatives with former City Manager Jay Ash. He is a Harvard University graduate and, since leaving the Revere mayor’s office, has been the executive director of the Supreme Judicial Court under former Chelsea Receiver Harry Spence.

Prior to being mayor, Ambrosino had a legal career that had him very active in Chelsea District Court and in downtown Boston. At the SJC, he has been charged with implementing sweeping changes put in place by the State Legislature over the courts.

Rees is the former City Manager of Portland, ME and has been transitioning from that position after a change in that City’s form of government, resigning abruptly last August according to press accounts. He had been there three years. A charter change in Portland approved in 2010 brought back an elected mayor to serve alongside a city manager, which press accounts from Portland described as “complicated.”

Rees previously was the city manager of North Andover and was the Chief Financial Officer in Framingham before that. According to his resume, he is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

Lynch mentioned that there were not many Chelsea residents who applied – citing only two applications received from residents. That, he said, kind of took the residency preference off the table early in the process.

“We made our decision looking at the background and experience of the people in front of us,” he said.

He said the Committee met for a total of about 17 hours in eight meetings – the longest being a five-hour meeting during three days of interviews for the seven semi-finalists.

He said the biggest decision they made was that they had narrowed the field down to three, but couldn’t agree on whether or not to include a fourth, so they did include the fourth name. That decision to forward four was a unanimous decision of the Committee.

Lynch said they also never considered going back to the field of seven when the two finalists withdrew last week. While the City Council had hoped to be able to consider at least three names, the Committee said it was not willing to revive the field of seven in order to bolster their recommendations upon the dual withdrawals.

“We felt the four we had were the most qualified,” he said.

Another question immediately levied was the fact that there was very little diversity in the two finalists, with both men being white males who don’t speak Spanish fluently. In public hearings earlier this year, it was repeatedly said by many residents that they wanted a diverse field of finalists – and someone who could speak Spanish, given Chelsea’s very diverse community and predominately Spanish-speaking population.

“It was a discussion we had and a big point in the interviews,” said Lynch. “A number of us asked questions about the diverse population of Chelsea. My position coming from Lowell was that diversity was a big part of Lowell. I saw the importance of that…”

The next phase of the process will be sending the names to the City Council for a vote, which will likely happen at the June 1 meeting. The Council has to approve the submission for the process to go forward.

The Council had planned to meet Wednesday night past the Record deadlines to discuss the process of interviewing candidates. Council President Leo Robinson said the process would have to be worked out, and not everyone is on the same page.

“We’ll work it all through tonight,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “Some have talked about asking for more names to consider, but I’m not sure if that will come out…For me, I ready to get going and move forward. I would like to come in on a Saturday where we have one of our candidates come in during the morning for an interview and the other one come in during the afternoon for an interview. If we need to call them back for a follow-up, we could do that during the week. That would be my suggestion, but we’ll have to all work it out.”

The Council is charged with making the final selection of the city manager and negotiating his contract. It is one of the key responsibilities of the City Council.

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