The search for a new Gardner City Administrator has kicked into high gear with the selection committee unveiling three finalists out of a reported field of 44. We congratulate the finalists, Nicholas Edwards, James Pruetting and Brian Wilson and wish them the best.
For the city, the journey to this point has been long and rocky. It started with an intriguing- cloak and dagger- operation that led to then City Administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee resigning and costing city taxpayers more than $300,000.
At the center of the operation was a grouping of local officials, dubbed ‘bridging the gap”, which would meet in different locations to discuss ‘multi-jurisdictional’ issues.
Last August 29,just prior to Harrison-Lee’s resignation, several members of the group -including Mayor Steve Shute, Council Vice President Rich Melton, Fire Chief Rob Kirk, School Superintendent Pam Stranathan and Police Chief Pruetting – held an early morning meeting at the firehouse and barred our reporter from attending the meeting. They also refused to divulge the agenda of the meeting. That they drew the blinds closed when they saw the reporter only heightened suspicions. Kirk told the reporter that the meeting was private even though it was held in a public facility.
Soon it emerged that prior to the resignation of Harrison-Lee, Shute had solicited and received a 360 review of Harrison-Lee from Kirk, in which the fire chief complained that the city administrator was not a team player and that she treated him as if he was below her level.
It became clear that the group was involved in getting Harrison-Lee out of office.
The question that remains is whether the group is also involved in finding her replacement.
While we may never definitively know the answer to this question, it is important to note that the committee that vetted the candidates includes Shute, Melton and Kirk- all members of the group.
That one of the three finalists, Pruetting, is also a member of the “bridge the gap” group is not only disturbing but raises significant questions. Politics of patronage often lead to other corrupt practices and for a city growing as fast as Gardner, the stain of a less than transparent selection process for the city’s pivotal position could have negative and far reaching implications.
We are fortunate to have a pool of good candidates, and it is with regret we draw attention to the city’s penchant for a “good old boy” system.
However, we believe it is necessary residents are aware of the city’s action, as taxpayers are ultimately the ones to bear the cost.