BERLIN — Berlin leadership cast a wide net this spring seeking a new town administrator, and Mayor Gee Williams confirmed Thursday that one has been found and will migrate to Berlin all the way from Colma, Calif.
“As of yesterday, we have signed a contract with our new town administrator,” Williams said. “She will be visiting Berlin this weekend right through Monday to become familiar with the community and to spend time with the current town administrator [Tony Carson].”
Carson’s replacement will be Laura Allen, currently the city administrator for Colma, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco with a population of about 1,800 residents. For reference, Berlin has about 4,000 residents.
Williams was confident that moving to a larger town will be an easy transition for Allen, with the mayor stating that her application stood out from the dozens the town received after Carson announced his resignation early last month.
“She had done a lot of research on Berlin and that impressed us as well,” Williams said of Allen.
While Colma might be tiny, Allen said it was never dull.
“There are very few cities in California that are smaller than Colma, but Colma has a very big heart,” she said. “So it’s been a great place to work.”
Allen also has roots in the area. She is from Easton and still has relatives in Berlin.
“One of her motivations to come here is that she’s been looking for a long time for the right opportunity to come back to the shore,” said the mayor.
Born into a military family, Allen lived in Easton at a young age but moved frequently, often leaving relatives behind. Returning to the Eastern Shore is something of a homecoming, she said.
“I’m really excited. I’ve enjoyed my time in California but I’m looking forward to coming home,” Allen said. “This is a unique opportunity for me to be close to family members I haven’t been close to in a while and it gives me a chance to come back to the Eastern Shore which has always felt like home to me.”
Allen has served as the Colma city manager since 2008 and has extensive experience in government finance. Before serving as city manager, she was assistant manager and has also served as finance director.
“In Colma, as the assistant city manager, I’ve served as the finance director and I’m also the finance director as the city manager,” she said. “It’s one of the multiple hats I get to wear.”
Allen has nearly 20 years of experience working in the public sector and has held positions in cities much larger than either Colma or Berlin.
“In my career, I’ve had about 18 years of public sector experience. Most of that is public budgeting focused. I’ve worked in the city of Berkeley and I also worked in Phoenix, Ariz.,” she said.
The selection process behind picking Allen was somewhat different than in years past. The Internet communication application Skype was used to conduct interviews across the country. Williams and the Town Council were able to video chat with all of their finalists, which the mayor said was “just like talking to someone in person” because of the large screens and up-to-date technology available in the council chambers.
“I think we’ll use [Skype] from now on. It does level the playing field a little bit I think,” said Williams. “We live in a more global society and therefore it doesn’t put people who don’t live in the immediate area at a disadvantage. It puts everybody on the same playing field.”
However, he added that town leadership is excited to meet Allen in person this week and will take her on a tour of the area as well as acquaint her with all town departments.
While it only took a month from Carson’s announcement of resignation to signing a contract with Allen, the town will be left without an official administrator for most of the summer. Carson will be leaving for his new job in Ohio after June 30, but Allen won’t be starting until sometime soon after Labor Day. Williams explained that the time in-between those two dates will be used to get Allen situated and the transition in order. In the interim, Deputy Town Administrator Mary Bohlen will step in to fill the gap.
The town has complete confidence in Bohlen filling in until Allen takes over, said Williams, especially since Bohlen has performed in that capacity previously.
Berlin will next be turning its attention to filling the position of planning and zoning director left vacant last month.
“As soon as we get [Allen’s visit] done, that will become the next priority. So next week we will begin reviewing them more carefully,” said Williams.
Like the town administrator spot, planning and zoning director has received a heavy stack of applications, and the mayor said the plan is to include Allen in the process either in person or via Skype.