Maine Municipal Association partners on town manager search

| Joanne Cole, NGX |

The job ad for New Gloucester town manager looks straightforward: qualifications and responsibilities, a destination and deadline for applications.  Beyond the ad and behind the scenes, however, David Barrett, Director of Personnel Services and Labor Relations at the Maine Municipal Association, is helping guide the search. 

Barrett describes MMA’s decades-long role as providing professional assistance to town officials through the hiring process, from initial advertising to “cutting a deal.”  In New Gloucester, the select board is responsible for hiring a town manager.  Following the resignation of town manager Carrie Castonguay in November, the board hired MMA for search support at a fee of $5500.

MMA’s Barrett says applications are coming in ahead of the January 27 deadline but that it’s difficult to predict how many the town will ultimately attract.  “Supply and demand works and is real,” says Barrett.  On the one hand, few manager jobs open up in Maine each year–MMA assists with only six or eight such searches annually–and people are always looking, Barrett says.  On the other hand, municipalities aren’t immune from the tight labor market that’s challenging employers statewide.  In the past, a town would have received 75 resumes for such a position, Barrett said, but will now see only “a fraction” of that number.  According to Barrett, one coastal town had more than 40 applications for a manager position, a recent high; 25 or so is more typical. Even with a good response, a town can be outbid for its preferred applicant.   

Once the application window closes, Barrett will sort the applications and share the packets with the select board.  What the process entails from there will depend in part on the board.  Right now, only the board is in on the search, but Barrett notes that the board can invite other voices into the process at any stage.  “Advice-givers can parachute in and parachute out,” he said.  Barrett himself will attend candidate interviews and assist with due diligence inquiries.   

Whether town officials invite others’ input can depend on how past searches have been done, Barrett says.  In New Gloucester, town manager searches have included outreach to town employees for their ideas, something the board agreed to do this time around.  The town has also previously included community members in the search process.

Barrett stresses that it’s essential to remember that “the town is also being interviewed.”  He adds, “It’s important to be candid about what challenges and what opportunities exist.”  With so much information online, it’s easy for candidates to learn directly about working relationships, budgets, the climate in the community, and more.  To Barrett, candor is sensible and practical.  The hope is that a thoughtful search will get a good response and “committed people” to choose from.  

First interviews will probably occur in early February, Barrett says, and an offer might be made by the end of February. David Barrett and MMA will work behind the scenes to support the search for a permanent town manager, and former town manager Paul First will serve as interim town manager until the new manager is hired.    

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