In a contentious split decision, the Belmont Board of Selectmen voted 2-1 to select David Kale, the Cambridge budget director, as the next Town Administrator.
While Selectmen Chairman Mark Paolillo and vice chairman Andy Rojas preferred Kale for his expertise in the budget process, Selectman Ralph Jones strongly disagreed with the decision, contending the town requires an administrator with strong managerial skills rather than a person with financial experience.
"We already have a great budget staff," said Jones after the meeting. "How much more analysis does one need? This will be a disappointment to many in town," he said.
Jones backed Peter Morin, Braintree's chief of staff and director of operations, who has an extensive background in local and state management.
"It was an extremely close call for me," said Paolillo.
"But I really saw (Kale's) knowledge on the budgetary process to be so important for the town to have," said Paolillo, noting that the the town will be undertaking long-term financial reform in the near future which will require strong budgetary applications.
"We'll have decisions such as if we need an override so (Kale's) experience will be so critical," he said after the meeting.
But for Jones, the Town Administrator's decision was tainted by hard-ball politics from a high-profile oversight group.
Jones pointedly accused the town's Warrant Committee – the Town Meeting's financial watch dog – of heavily lobbying for Kale's selection in a campaign to bring added budgetary expertise to the town at the expense of managerial knowhow.
"I regard it as a rather disturbing series of phone calls and emails coming from people in town that are apparently associated with the Warrant Committee ... pushing for Kale," said Jones.
"We don't need as much a numbers guy as a leader," said Jones, especially at a time when Human Resources Director Diane Crimmins has informed the Selectmen that "there is a real lack of morale in department heads and employees."
"The morale problem is serious," said Jones after the meeting. "That's why (department heads) where so happy to see Richard Kelliher (Belmont's interim town administrator from November 2011 to January 2012) here. He brought that strong leadership to the town which we desperately need."
Jones said Kale's selection will mark the second time in seven years where the board went against the direction of the Town Administrator Selection Committee which emphasized managerial leadership.
After the meeting, Jones – who is currently the Selectmen's representative to the Warrant Committee – said it is likely that any town-wide structural change will now be taken up "by a far more powerful Warrant Committee."
According to Jones, the Selectmen's decision goes against the vote of town department heads who supported Morin, who was in attendance for the vote.
It was also noted that Town Treasurer Floyd Carman believed the hiring of Kale would duplicate treasurer's duties.
Paolillo said he believes that Kale will grow into the position and expressed confidence that having led an important department in Cambridge – known for its strong city government structure and need to confront a diverse population and several interest groups – will give him the experience needed to lead the town.
"How could he have run the department successfully without being an effective manager?" said Paolillo.
He also said Kale will "open avenues" to Belmont's neighbor; providing an opportunity for partnerships and regionalization.
"He certainly has an 'in' to the city," said Paolillo, who grew up in Cambridge as the son of its Police Chief.
Cambridge's budget director and deputy finance director since 2003, Kale manages and develops the city's $472 million operating budget and $56 million capital budget.
Writes the budget notebook that provides the city's 34 departments with budget guidelines based on the city's five-year financial and capital plan and bonding schedule.
Kale was also Arlington Public Schools' chief financial director for two years. He has a BA in economics and MBA from Suffolk University.