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Planning Board Votes to Hire Town Planner

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By Richard Rohan

August 1 - After eight months without a town planner following the departure of Brian Szekely, the Winchester Planning Board, in a rare Monday afternoon meeting, voted 4-1-0 to offer the full time planner position to Taylor Herman. Herman was one of three candidates elevated to the interview stage of the process by the screening committee from the second round of applicants.  Another interviewee was deemed by the Planning Board to not be a good fit for the Town’s needs and a third candidate did not respond to repeated attempts to schedule an interview.  The first round of screening resulted in a single candidate being interviewed, who ultimately accepted a different job offer.

The Planning Board discussed several options ranging from offering Herman a series of three-month part-time positions (while continuing to search for a full-time planner) to hiring Herman as the full-time planner with a probationary period.  The hesitancy to offering Herman the full-time position was summed up by Planning Board member I-Ching Scott.  “I think the main issue is the lack of actual planning experience and formal planning training.”  On the other hand, she further stated “I do think that we need somebody ASAP and he is qualified to do a lot of the things that we do need to do really quickly.”

Herman has a master’s degree in architecture and experience in urban planning, plus he’s the founder and president of Desire Plan, an organization formed to help local communities “with the tools, information, and expertise needed to make informed decisions to better the future planning and development of their own neighborhoods. 

Very early in the discussion board member Nick Rossettos voiced the opinion that the search for a full-time planner should reopened while acknowledging the “dire circumstances” that the board finds itself in without any professional staff support.  Much of the discussion centered around the length of a part-time contract, and the probationary period for the full-time position in regards to 2024 Spring Town Meeting when the Planning Board intends to bring forward zoning articles in response to the Commonwealth’s MBTA Section 3A zoning requirements. “It’s a tricky framework,” stated Board member Kerri Layton, referring to the timing.

John Suhrbier, chair of the Winchester Housing Partnership Board and a member of the screening committee, spoke to the paucity of highly qualified candidates.  “Many community and state organizations are having difficulty hiring people, with some people telling me that in the current political environment…fewer people are choosing to work in the public sector.  This translates into fewer applications, and fewer applications from very highly qualified and experienced people.”  In the end, the Board voted 4-1-0 to offer the full-time position to Herman with a 6-month probationary period.  Board member Rossettos, the lone dissenting vote, concluded the nearly 90-minute meeting said that he “definitely supports his (Herman’s) being successful.”   

External links: Winchester Planning Board July 31, 2023  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYmuZ9BZet

Richard Rohan is a Precinct 2 Town Meeting Member.

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