2016-09-30 / Front Page

Cape council to solicit public on new town manager

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — Before the Cape Elizabeth Town Council casts a vote on hiring their first new town manager in more than 30 years, the public will get a chance to weigh in on the type of person they’d like to see in the top post.

At a Sept. 21 meeting with Don Gerrish and Dick Metivier of Eaton Peabody, a Portland consulting firm hired to manage the search to replace Michael McGovern, the council voted unanimously to allow interviews with all town employees and to stage a listening session with Cape residents, business owners and local organizations.

That meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, in council chambers at town hall.

“The purpose of the meeting is to gather information regarding what the community believes are the major issues and challenges facing Cape Elizabeth, and to express what the qualities, education, background and experience the new town manager should possess to manage the town and to meet the issues and challenges facing Cape Elizabeth,” read a notice circulated by the town on Sept. 22.

At the initial meeting with Eaton Peabody Sept. 21, the council also agreed to a timeline presented by Gerrish for the search process. That draft outline calls on Eaton Peabody to interview town staff and council members individually during the last week of September and the first week of October.

Advertising for the open town manager’s position is expected to begin during the first week of November, once wording is approved by the town council. Eaton Peabody will winnow resumes down to its top picks and present that to the council in early December. Council interviews with the top four to six candidates should take place during the third week of December, with second round interviews if the top two scheduled for the first week of January, with the names of both finalists released to the public, prior to local tours and meetings with residents.

According to Gerrish, an announcement of which finalist landed the council nod will be made on or about Jan. 18. While an initial three-year contract has been the historical norm, Gerrish said the trend line has been pointing in recent years to five-year starting contracts.

“The person coming in likes to know that, unless they really mess up, they’re going to have a job for a little while,” he said. “The politics in the community, not that I’m saying you have that here, can create volatility that leads managers to wanting a little bit of job security.”

In his Aug. 22 resignation letter, McGovern said his last day with the town will be Dec. 31. However, council Chairman Molly MacAuslan said last week anticipates McGovern will stay on in some form of consulting capacity to aid the transition.

“Jan. 18 is when the starting date will be announced, but if we hire someone who is in an existing position, who needs to give a 60-day notice, let’s say, we could be looking at the middle of March,” MacAuslan said. “We are hoping to not need an interim manager. But we have Debra Lane, our assistant manager, who is coming up on 30 years with the town herself. She is highly competent, highly skilled, highly experiences. I think we’re in good hands. But we are also hoping to reach a appointment agreement of some sort with Mike (McGovern) to be available to work with the new town manager or the assistant town manager through some period of time, which I expect will be six months.”

MacAuslan said the need for McGovern past his official final day is due in part to the fact that any new manager will be coming on board just as the town is ramping up for the annual budgeting process.

For that reason, the hiring of Eaton Peabody was expedited to a degree. The town received three proposals from consulting firms, including Maine Municipal Association and New Hampshire-based Municipal Resources. The council decided on Eaton Peabody at a Sept. 13 workshop. However, while the council would ordinarily not be allowed to conduct any kind of vote at a workshop, particularly one that spends public money, the council voted at its regular business meeting held the previous day to authorize having McGovern sign a contract with whichever firm it agreed to at the workshop.

“It’s not that we’re charging down the road thoughtlessly,” MacAuslan said. “I think we want a very deliberate, measured approach to finding the best candidate for Cape Elizabeth, but having said that I don’t think we want too much time to unfold between the time he (McGovern) leaves and a new person comes in, particularly considering that, if we’re talking March, we’ll be in the middle of budget season.”

A contract with Eaton Peabody was signed Sept. 15. It will make $8,000 for guiding the search process. Eaton Peabody is the same firm currently leading a similar manager search in South Portland. There, it is making $9,500 for its efforts, while Gerrish is making $650 per day, three days per week, to act as interim city manager.

Before joining Eaton Peabody, Gerrish logged 38 years as a municipal manager, including 10 in Gorham and 20 in Brunswick. Metivier, meanwhile, spent 41 years at Lewiston City Hall, including 30 as its finance director.

“We all agreed our preference would be to use someone from the state of Maine will relevant recent experience in this kind of selection process. But what really tipped the scales for this particular firm is that they have done this job themselves,” MacAuslan said.

At the Sept. 21 workshop, Gerrish cautioned councilors that his firm will solicit and vet applications, but it will not actively recruit anyone in particular.

“I want to make it clear, we’re not head hunters,” he said. “But people know us, they contract us all the time. And the word is out. Cape has a good reputation. I believe that you are going to get a good number of applications.”

That said, Gerrish offered an additional word to tamp down expectations, based on Eaton Peabody having helped nearly 30 Maine municipalities land new managers since 2010.

“We’re not getting the number or quality of applications we did four or five years ago,” he said.

“Or even three years ago,” Metivier added.

“True,” Gerrish agreed. “To be honest with you, if we got six quality applications, we’d be pleased. People just aren’t getting into this profession anymore and, for whatever reason, managers just aren’t moving on like they did a number of years ago. The public manager degree at the University of Maine is gone, and the post-graduate program at the Muskie Center is not as popular as it used to be. So, we’ve lost our feeder system.”

Eaton Peabody also is conducting the town manager search in Kittery, where six was the number of resumes received deemed to be up to snuff, out of 31 submitted, Gerrish said.

Under questioning from the council, Gerrish predicted the majority for Cape’s top job will come from out of state, and that “maybe 15 or 20 percent” will be from female candidates.

Cape’s town charter specifically states the manager does not have to be a town resident, and that may help, Gerrish said. South Portland councilors agreed that their new manager should obtain a home within city limits, and ended up getting 21 applicants for its manager position.

“I really feel that the residency requirement kept us from getting the number of applicants we might have otherwise, frankly,” Gerrish said.

Although councilors did not express an overt preference for a local candidate over one from away, some did express trepidation over a new manager’s tolerance for Maine winters.

“I was a head hunter myself for 10 years,” Councilor Katharine Ray said. “My experience was that people from out of state felt they wanted to come to Maine – they sort of say the TV ads about ‘Maine, the way life should be’ – but most of them did not understand the change they would experience and most of them were unhappy being here. They get three snowstorms and they’re, like, ‘What was I thinking?’ and they want to go.”

“We try to flesh that out with the candidate, to find out why they are interested in Cape Elizabeth,” Metivier said.

“What we see a lot, even with candidates from elsewhere, is a tie of some sort to Maine,” Gerrish said. “It may be, ‘I went to Bates (College), or ‘my parents and I used to spend summers in Maine,’ or, ‘I live in Arizona but I have family in New Hampshire.’ But you’re right, Maine’s a great place to live, and a great place to work, but it’s different.”

Anyone unable to attend the Oct. 19 public hearing who would still like to be heard on the topic of Cape Elizabeth’s new manager and the future needs of the town can email thoughts to Metivier at RMetivier@eatonpeabody.com.

Councilors will be presented with a compendium of all comments given on the subject, albeit stripped of individual names, Gerrish said.

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