Rochester to go into negotiations with Conservation Agent candidate

Jun 7, 2021

ROCHESTER -- With longtime Conservation Agent Laurell Farinon’s resignation impending, the Board of Selectmen interviewed two candidates for the position at their June 7 meeting.

“Time is important,” Selectman Woody Hartley said.

“They have to know soon,” Town Administrator Suzanne Szyndlar added.

So the board decided to move to go into negotiations with one candidate, Brian Vasa, immediately after the two interviews.

Vasa and fellow candidate Merilee Kelley, both employed as Conservation Agents for other towns, each received a similar set of questions from the Selectmen and Town Administrator.

The Conservation Agent “serves as principal staff and advisor to the Conservation Commission and manages conservation lands and participates in town-wide natural resource planning efforts,” according to Rochester’s listing for the job.

The listing called for candidates who “have working knowledge of botany, soils, hydrology,” and have a number of other communication and time management skills.

As a right to farm community, Selectman Brad Morse asked both candidates how much experience they had with farmers.

“Sure -- Acushnet has farmers,” Kelley said, referring to her current town of employment. “Lots of farmers.”

Vasa, currently working as a Land Management Assistant in Duxbury and Conservation Agent in Plympton according to his LinkedIn page, said he also had experience dealing with farmers -- especially cranberry farmers.

Morse followed up with both candidates, asking how they would deal with instances where the conservation agent may have to deal with residents violating rules and regulations.

“You wanna give them the benefit of the doubt,” Vasa said, adding that most people don’t realize they’re breaking any rules.

“Generally it works, but not everyone wants to be told they’re doing something wrong,” he said.

Kelley, on the other hand, said she takes a more direct approach.

“As soon as I hear about it it’s usually a personal site visit,” she said. “And then usually I’ll send them a letter.”

From there, Kelley said, she would go to the Conservation Commission to see if an enforcement letter would be necessary, and as a last resort, get lawyers involved.

“But we hope it doesn’t get that far,” she said.

Hartley asked both candidates whether they had much experience dealing with solar developers, as more and more Rochester residents look to install solar arrays.

“That’s been almost my whole experience,” Vasa said, at his current job.
He said he has a lot of experience dealing with the “back and forth” that occurs between towns and developers.

Kelley said she’s noticed a similar trend in Acushnet, where more residents are looking to install arrays.

“Many of them are really large,” she said. “So it’s feeling like a lot for that little town.”

Following the Selectmen’s questioning, the candidates were given the opportunity to ask questions of their own.

Vasa wondered what the dynamic of the town was like, and how residents tended to interact with municipal government.

“I think everyone does their best,” Selectman Paul Ciaburri said. But he added that residents of Rochester like “as little change as possible.”

During Kelley’s interview, which followed Vasa, Morse flipped the first candidate’s question, and asked what Kelley knew about the town.

“Surprisingly little, actually,” she said. “It seems to be a lot different than acushnet, despite being right next to it.”

Following the interviews, the Selectmen took a short time to deliberate before voting unanimously to go into contract negotiations with Vasa for the Conservation Agent position.