August is target for hiring new town manager in Freeport

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FREEPORT — If nothing else, Dale Olmstead Jr.’s successor as town manager should be at ease among residents and school and town officials.

Communication and management skills were among the key traits identified by about 15 people who attended an April 18 Town Hall forum on hiring a new town manager.

“Did we mention follow the Town Charter, too?” resident Lisa Evans asked Don Gerrish and Richard Metivier of Augusta-based Eaton Peabody Consulting Group as they summarized what town councilors should keep in mind about selecting a candidate.

Gerrish and Metivier led the 90-minute forum and outlined the process for replacing Olmstead, who announced his retirement last October. He intended to move on this spring, but the revised timetable calls for a replacement to begin working with Olmstead Sept. 4 and for Olmstead to leave Oct. 18.

This week, Gerrish and Metivier began meeting with town department heads and business leaders for more input ahead of a council workshop at the Freeport Community Library at 6:30 p.m. on May 2 . The workshop, where the two will present their findings to councilors, is open to the public.

It should allow councilors to conclude how a job advertisement will be written. How much a new town manager will be paid has not been decided, Gerrish said, and he and Metivier occasionally prodded last week’s audience to focus more on desired traits they could report to councilors next week.

Gerrish and Metivier also invited the public to email comments to them at Eaton Peabody Consulting, and said public comment is also accepted at www.freeporttalks.org.

Gerrish was town manager in Gorham and Brunswick for 30 years. Metivier served as finance director in Lewiston for 29 years and in city government for 40 years. As consultants, they said they will conduct the background checks on candidates, including calls going beyond any lists of references, and site visits to candidates at their current jobs.

The two have conducted more than 15 searches in the last three years, including an ongoing search in Auburn, Gerrish said.

An ad for the Freeport job is expected to be posted May 7 on the Maine Municipal Association, International City/County Management Association, Maine Career Center and town websites.

The deadline for resumes is June 1. Initial information on candidates will remain confidential, Gerrish said. He and Metivier said they hope to narrow the field to about eight candidates for councilors to interview by no later than June 21.

From July 9-12, the plan is to have four finalists interviewed a second time, and for the public to meet the finalists at a gathering or reception. A new town manager should be chosen by Aug. 3.

Most towns get between 25 and 40 applicants, and Gerrish said the job advertisement should be clear about whether Olmstead’s successor should have to live in town.

Gerrish said applicants will be doing their homework by watching council meetings, studying budgets and making unannounced visits.

“A good candidate will also come in with pointed questions,” he said.

Council Chairman Jim Cassida said councilors made an intentional choice to stay away from the forum.

“The whole idea was for the public to talk freely. Even if we attended and were silent, we worried the conversation would be altered,” Cassida said.

To replace Olmstead, South Freeport resident Andrew Arsenault called for a long-term commitment, with a contract of at least three years and a nonbinding town referendum on job performance.

Arsenault said a multiyear contract allows a town manager to operate more independently of the council and said strong personnel management skills will be essential.

“Contracts are the way it is done today,” Gerrish said, noting state law prohibits giving more than a three-year contract to public officials.

Cassida said Olmstead did not have a contract until recently, and was not certain if his replacement would be offered one.

“There are pros and cons for both ways, we will certainly have to of discussion about this as we go forward,” Cassida said.

The town is spending at least $4,500 to use Eaton Peabody, and Cassida and using the firm made sense because of the depth of their work.

“I think we had considerable debate on how to undergo this process,” he said. “Originally, the thought was the council could handle it themselves. But it takes a considerable amount of time, so we hired professionals.”

While lamenting the light attendance at the forum, former Councilor Joe Migliaccio said he knows want he wants to see in a new town manager.

“It should be someone who celebrates communication with the public,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.