South Hadley officials pick former Fitchburg mayor Lisa Wong as next town administrator


Staff Writer
Monday, July 12, 2021

SOUTH HADLEY — The town’s Select Board has decided on a candidate that members hope will become the next town administrator.

In a unanimous vote, the board voted early Friday morning to make an offer to Lisa Wong, the 41-year-old town manager in Winchester. The town must now complete contract negotiations with Wong before she is hired for the position.

Wong has been town manager in Winchester since 2018. She previously served as the mayor of Fitchburg from 2008 to 2016, making her the first Asian American woman in Massachusetts to become a mayor and the first minority to serve in that role in the city’s 243-year history. She drew headlines for turning the city’s finances around, boosting its stabilization fund from $10,000 when she took office to more than $5 million — work that boosted the city’s bond rating from BBB- to A-, according to The Telegram & Gazette in Worcester. 

Efforts to reach Wong were unsuccessful Friday.

During Friday’s meeting, Select Board members expressed high praise for Wong as well as the town’s other finalist — Redmond Jones, the city administrator in West Branch, Iowa — after both candidates conducted interviews with the board Wednesday.

“The most impressive thing with both of them … was that there was never ‘I,’ it was always ‘we,’” Select Board Chair Jeff Cyr said.

Ultimately, the board chose Wong based on her lengthy experience, her knowledge of South Hadley and New England, the specific examples she gave to highlight her experience, and how that experience matched what the Select Board was looking for in its next chief executive.

“I am so pleased, in particular, to have been able to interview Lisa Wong, who I think met everything we could possibly have asked for in a candidate for this position, and I think would be stellar for this community,” Select Board Vice Chair Sarah Etelman said during Friday’s meeting.

“She has certainly demonstrated that both in words and in actions, and in the research that she has done on South Hadley and in her knowledge of our community.”

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Wong grew up in North Andover and led the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority before becoming that city’s mayor.

During her interview with the Select Board, Wong referenced her work at the Fitchburg Redevelopment Authority in bringing community members together to build a park, create a nonprofit to maintain it, and fixing the roads around it.

South Hadley, with the help of the firm Community Paradigm Associates, had initially chosen four finalists for the job back in April. However, three of those finalists had withdrawn their names before interviews commenced, leaving the Select Board to continue searching for other candidates.

Stuart Beckley, the current town administrator in Ware who previously served as Easthampton’s city planner, was the only finalist who remained after the others had pulled their names from consideration in April. Beckley was not named as a finalist this time.

Earlier this month, the Select Board extended the contract of current Town Administrator Michael Sullivan — who was set to retire on June 30 — until September as the search continued.