As the Oak Bluffs selectmen grilled candidates for permanent town administrator Tuesday, one of the three hopefuls was not quite as apprehensive as the other two.

“Maybe I’m mellowing out in my old age,” said Robert Whritenour, “I seem to be leaving my stress behind on the boat.”

Mr. Whritenour has served as interim town administrator since July, during which time he has become a respected figure in Oak Bluffs. The selectmen, at the outset, acknowledged the slightly unusual nature of the proceedings.

“This is going to be so strange,” selectman Walter Vail said as he was about to interview Mr. Whritenour.

Nevertheless, the process had its tense moments, for Mr. Whritenour as well as the two other finalists for the job — each of whom raised serious questions about the town’s staffing, organization, revenue and cost-cutting issues.

First the selectmen met with Anthony Troiano, the former town manager for Hopkinton and assistant town administrator for Burlington. Mr. Troiano said the town is missing a key staff position.

“The absence of an accountant or a finance director is like putting a hole in the bottom of a ship and watching it sink,” he said. “Absolutely, unequivocally without a doubt the most important thing you face right now is to have an accountant on board. I couldn’t stress that more.”

Finance director Paul Manzi died in October of 2010, and for the last year the town has been contracting accounting work.

“The town administrator relies on the town accountant more than anyone else,” Mr. Troiano said.

Other line items in the town budget caught his eye as well; he said had spent the entire day prior poring over town reports and budget sheets. “Why does the parks and recreation department have no budget?” he asked. He also said: “You’re putting $30,000 into your reserve fund. It should have quite a bit more money in it.”

Mr. Troiano touted his extensive experience in procurement and in managing a $1.5 million structural deficit during his time in Hopkinton. A former chief ranger at Sandy Neck Beach Park in Barnstable, he said the location of the Oak Bluffs job was its primary attraction.

“I don’t want to leave the Cape and Islands again,” he said. “My wife doesn’t want to leave the ocean and I don’t blame her. I don’t think I want to either.”

Former Wareham, Billerica and Truro assistant town administrator John Sanguinet was blunt about why the job appealed to him. “I’m currently unemployed,” he said.

A former financial analyst for the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR), Mr. Sanguinet said his knowledge of the inner workings of municipal finance would be a boon to a town that has come under close scrutiny by the DOR in recent years.

He said he saw tax collection as an area of opportunity for the cash-strapped town, noting that in Wareham he had hired a law firm to collect back taxes on delinquent properties. “In the first six months we generated almost $900,000 in revenue,” he said.

Mr. Sanguinet also endorsed regionalization with the other down-Island towns as a cost-saving measure, even when it came to town accounting services. “It might be an area, that if we have turnover in town, we could meet with Tisbury or Edgartown to see if we can share,” he said. Mr. Sanguinet said when Wareham was faced with an $800,000 budget shortfall he worked tirelessly to balance the books.

Finally, selectmen interviewed Mr. Whritenour, former Falmouth town manager and current Oak Bluffs interim town administrator.

“I’ve become quite taken with this community,” he said. “I’m really struck in this time period by how much my qualifications line up with some of the exact types of priorities that Oak Bluffs has.”

Mr. Whritenour said in his short tenure, he had provided the town with a more realistic financial picture. While revenues and collection fell short in recent years Oak Bluffs drew from its reserves to pay the bills, a strategy that ultimately caught up with the town, he said.

“If you don’t collect the revenues that you estimate but you’re spending based on those estimates and at the same time you’re spending money out of free cash and depleting that, it has a multiplier effect,” he said.

To put Oak Bluffs on firmer financial footing Mr. Whritenour said he had lowered revenue estimates to match fiscal year 2011’s actual collections. He also indirectly addressed his exit in Falmouth, where he was pressured to step down as town manager in 2010.

“At this point in my career I don’t have any issues in terms of power,” he said. “I’ve been at the far end of having so much power that everyone sees you as a target. My philosophy is that the administrator is here to support the board of selectmen, first and foremost.”

Asked to describe their biggest weaknesses, Mr. Troiano said he helped people too much, Mr. Sanguinet said he worked too hard and Mr. Whritenour called himself too cooperative.

Mr. Whritenour said he had already “grown tremendously” in his time on the Vineyard.

The final applicant, former Cheshire town administrator Thomas Webb, was unable to attend Tuesday’s interviews. Selectmen have yet to schedule a meeting with Mr. Webb, but said they hope to make a decision in the next few weeks.