Foxboro town hall file photo building

Foxboro Town Hall

Municipal officials are scrambling to adjust succession plans in the town health department after learning that public health director Pauline Zajdel has unexpectedly accelerated her planned retirement.

Assistant Town Manager Michael Johns on Tuesday confirmed that Zajdel notified the town she had moved up her departure date, which originally was scheduled for year’s end, to Thanksgiving week.

Johns and Town Manager William Keegan said the new timeline has prompted officials to reevaluate how best to approach the pending vacancy – a process made more urgent by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Johns, whose role includes human resources oversight, already had launched a job search with the understanding that Zajdel would be retiring five weeks from now. Given difficulties in recruiting qualified candidates, Johns said even that timeline would be difficult to meet.

Under the circumstances, Keegan and Johns last week suggested that fire department command staff could be leveraged temporarily to help manage or oversee health department functions while a search for Zajdel’s permanent replacement continued.

They pointed out that Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Kenvin has been a key player in Foxboro’s COVID-19 response efforts as the town’s public health nurse, while Fire Chief Michael Kelleher is a registered sanitarian.

But even as a stopgap measure, this proposal received a cool reception from members of the board of health – although Keegan is authorized to appoint the health director.

This week, Keegan said he has not ruled out tapping into the fire department, but first wanted to revisit the matter with health board Chairman Eric Arvedon. But with Zajdel’s imminent departure, he stressed that all options remain on the table.

This includes exploring possible avenues to advance current Health Inspector John Robertson to the director’s post. Keegan said he would be open to such an arrangement, but that Robertson would need to obtain the necessary qualifications first.