ROCKPORT — If Orlando Pacheco is selected Rockport's next town administrator, he would strive to improve the community's information technology systems, aggressively pursue grants — and aim to keep politics out of the chief executive's daily decision-making processes.
The 31-year-old Danvers resident, one of three finalists for the job, interviewed with selectmen Tuesday night.
"I understand there has been previous political tension ... but Rockport just has to move on with a fresh start," Pacheco said, alluding to contentious issues with former town administrator Michael Racicot. "You hate to see things become political."
As selectmen took turns firing questions at Lancaster's town administrator, it became clear the Rockport administrator position's recent history weighed almost as much on the selectmen's minds as its future.
Selectmen Charles Clark and Sarah Wilkinson addressed the proverbial elephant in the room by asking questions inspired by the chief concerns communicated to them by residents who disapproved of Racicot's performance.
Asked by Clark how he would deal with the "old guard" — described by Clark as residents who'd like things done in Rockport as they were in the "good old days" — Pacheco said it's not a situation many administrators face today. Extensive state regulations, he said, have effectively put an end to the "good-old-days" era.
"The world around us has changed," Pacheco said. "The towns may look the same, but they operate differently; there are more responsibilities. Communities have to learn to change with (the world)."
Wilkinson noted that some Rockporters believed Racicot was mismanaged by selectmen; she asked Pacheco how a town administrator could be managed without selectmen giving the perception they were shifting power to the administrator.
"This position has no real power, we can certainly make recommendations, but the perception is always there," he responded. "Part of fending off the perception of a shift in power is for the Board of Selectmen to say it's not like that. They should say 'he's our quarterback, why not have him be empowered?' — or you might as well get rid of the town administrator position."
Pacheco earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Massachusetts — Amherst, a master's in public administration from the University of New Hampshire, and later served an internship in the Andover town manager's office, where he studied under former Rockport Town Administrator and current Andover Assistant Town Manager Steven Bucuzzo.
Before landing the Lancaster job in 2005, Pacheco served as administrative assistant to David Hildt, then mayor of Amesbury.
The Peabody native and married father of an 8-month-old child is under contract with Lancaster through June 30, 2011, and earns a salary of about $90,000. While some of his reasons for wanting to leave Lancaster are personal, he said, mainly he was inspired to look elsewhere by his desire to tackle new challenges and find an area where he could settle for the long term. He was granted a second contract by Lancaster selectmen in 2008.
Pacheco said he can be as strong or as weak a town administrator as the selectmen would like.
"I don't want to shake things up if I don't need to be," he said. "If the status quo is working, I'll just find my niche."
However, the status quo in Rockport is not necessarily what current selectmen would like to see continued, at least not in full. Several selectmen were pleased to hear Pacheco was a successful grants writer and is considered by many who work with him to be a uniter.
"The most attractive part of the job when I decided to go to Lancaster was the financial mess it was in," Pacheco said. "The surprising thing was the policies and procedures in place looked pretty good, but people weren't talking with each other.
"If you can sit people together in a room and they can talk, you get things done," he continued. "You can disagree without being disagreeable. I get too much credit sometimes for turning things around in Lancaster because I just made people talk to each other."
Lancaster Selectman Christopher Williams praised Pacheco yesterday.
"If Rockport gets Orlando, they're definitely going to get an asset," Williams said. "We're really happy with the progress he's had here. He's very young and there are pros and cons; the pro is he's very eager and the con is he's very eager.
"He's done a lot of good things since coming to Lancaster; I knew he wouldn't be sticking around here for long," Williams added.
Pacheco promised that, if hired, he'd employ a team-based approach to solving problems and out-of-the-box ideas to raise revenues and eliminate wasteful spending.
While few residents attend Lancaster Town Meeting and even fewer speak up — this year's budget passed Town Meeting without a single question asked, Pacheco said — he's aware of residents' participation level in Rockport government.
"I expect Rockport is very different than in Lancaster ...," he said. "I don't know if there is a town with more committees than Rockport. Town Meeting is the ultimate authority and it's concerning when a lot of people don't show up."
Rockport selectmen liked what they heard; Chairman Sandy Jacques described Pacheco as "strong, confident and articulate."
"I had doubts going into the interview because of his age, but he blew (those doubts) away," said Selectman Andrew Heinze, who added he was also impressed by Pacheco's ability to resolve conflicts and obtain grants.
Pacheco will have to wait at least another week before hearing if he will be hired for the position. Selectmen will interview Robert Canevazzi, most recently town administrator in the Cape Cod town of Dennis, and Ashby Town Administrator Linda Sanders. Those interviews are scheduled for Tuesday night at 7:15 and 8:15, respectively, at Town Hall.
Jonathan L'Ecuyer can be reached at 978-283-7000 x 3451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.