County Drops Top Job Offer

In Divided Vote, Commissioners Withdraw Offer of Manager's Position to Laurie Perry; Search Begins Anew

By ALEXIS TONTI

Almost four months after the Dukes County commissioners selected Laurie Perry, former administrator for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), as county manager, they voted 4-3 Wednesday night to rescind the offer.

The commission also voted unanimously to ask its selection committee to reconvene to find three qualified candidates - and urged Ms. Perry to make herself a candidate in the new selection process.

After the vote acting county manager Dianne Powers told the commission that she is unwilling to serve in that position through another extended search process. "I've done this for eight months, and I expected to do it for four," she said. "I'm not willing to wait another two weeks to talk, and another two weeks, and another. I need closure."

Ms. Powers has served in the post since January, while holding onto her job as Dukes County register of deeds.

The vote followed weeks of indecision regarding Ms. Perry's education credentials.

Her resume listed a bachelor of science degree in business administration from Northeastern University in 1977, but university officials have said they have no record of her enrollment nor graduation. In the view of the majority of commissioners, Ms. Perry was unable to give satisfactory documentation. The job description, as posted in January, requires a bachelor's degree.

"After weighing all of the information before me, I was not convinced beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt as to the validity of the credentials," commission chairman John Alley said yesterday.

"There is no question in my mind that Laurie Perry is a marvelous candidate and would do a phenomenal job," commissioner Robert Sawyer said yesterday. "She's capable, bright and her value system is excellent. . . . She provided us certain correspondence that supported her bachelor's degree, and I prefer to believe that Northeastern lost her record."

Yesterday, commissioner Leslie Leland referred to documents introduced by Ms. Perry in an executive session before the vote:

"She had come in with at least four good letters from former employers who had hired her directly, who had seen her credentials and had those letters notarized," he said. "That's what I wanted: to have something definitive to hang my hat on. It's conceivable that a university such as Northeastern could screw up and lose documents."

After reconvening in open session, Ms. Perry asked that the documents she had provided be returned. Mr. Sawyer questioned whether they were part of the public record, but after some hesitation the commissioners gave them back.

Ms. Perry did not return phone calls from the Gazette yesterday.

The commissioners said little else prior to the vote.

Paul Strauss, who introduced the motion to rescind Ms. Perry's offer, said: "I feel we have not received documentation to confirm Laurie's claim that she has a degree from Northeastern, and a college degree was a requirement."

Mr. Sawyer said, "Based on what I know now, I would vote against this motion. I'd like to see a little more time."

The search for a new county manager began after Carol Borer retired in December following controversy surrounding vacation and sick time pay.

In April a search committee recommended two of the 50 applicants to the county commission as finalists - Ms. Perry and E. Wynn Davis, town administrator in Hanson. The commission voted 5-2 in May to offer Ms. Perry the job, citing her close ties to the community as a leading factor in the decision. Questions about her education surfaced shortly afterward, following a verification check by a county employee.

Following Wednesday's vote, Ms. Powers reminded the commissioners that hiring Mr. Davis was still an option. "He is willing to have a discussion, but he won't go through the application process again," she said.

"We'll leave that to the selection committee to give us the three they want," said Mr. Strauss.

Ms. Powers also offered the name of Chatham resident Thomas Groux, of Groux and Associates, consultants to local governments. She said he came highly recommended and was available three days a week at a rate of $600 a day.

The commissioners took home information about Mr. Groux and agreed to meet Tuesday, August 19, to discuss a replacement for the interim position.

Moving forward, commissioner Nelson Smith said he envisioned an expedited procedure. "The committee has already done a lot of hard work. I'm looking at a process where we go back to the pool we already have, maybe advertise for a short period of time - two or three weeks - close it and then move on, quickly."

He added that he'd prefer to see somebody from within the county in the interim position, a sentiment echoed by several commissioners.

"The notion of bringing in someone from off-Island who doesn't have the sensitivity to the dynamics and values - compounded with the suggestion that we pay them $150,000 annualized - that's just absurd," Mr. Sawyer said.

"I'd like to have a member of the local community step up, someone who knows the players," said Mr. Alley. "It's one of the few built-in advantages."

Ms. Powers said yesterday that she has faith in the services county government can provide, and considered whether the absence of a long-term leader has harmed the county. "The individual departments have all functioned quite well and have provided the services they should be providing," she said.

She added that as interim manager she had committed herself to deal only with services vital to the community: "There were a lot of meetings I didn't attend, and it would have been better had the county had representation. So there are pieces the new manager will have to catch up on."

"The county has managed to operate efficiently, but I think the image of county government has been tarnished," said Mr. Alley. "Whoever steps in in the interim has to do some repair work to the image of county government. We desperately need to get our house in order."