Gerrish: South Portland's record may complicate manager search

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SOUTH PORTLAND — City councilors met with the incoming interim city manager Monday to discuss specifics of the search for a permanent manager. 

What they heard is that finding someone to replace City Manager Jim Gailey, whose last official day is July 22, may not be easy.

Gailey announced his resignation last month after nine years as city manager and a total of nearly 30 years working for the city. 

The council decided in late June to hire Don Gerrish of Eaton Peabody to serve as interim city manager and coordinate the search for a new full-time replacement. Gerrish is a former town manager of Brunswick and Gorham. At Eaton Peabody he has helped complete more than 25 searches for municipal managers across the state, and has acted as the interim manager for nearly 10 communities. 

A formal contract for Eaton Peabody’s services will be signed at the July 18 council meeting. 

Retaining Gerrish’s services as an interim – which he will likely do for about four months – will cost $650 per day of work. Additionally, it will cost $9,500 for the firm to complete the search for a permanent manager, Gerrish said. 

The city should also factor in an additional $3,000-$4,000 for miscellaneous expenses during the process, such as flying a candidate in for an interview, Gerrish said. 

The next steps include collecting input from councilors and city department heads, including the prominent issues the city is likely to face in the next five years and specific qualities desired in a new city manager.

Gerrish said he expects about 30 applicants for a city the size of South Portland. Generally, though, applicants for municipal positions are dwindling, he said, and the “numbers and quality of people have not been as good as we’ve seen in the past.”

“I think people are looking at it as a tough job, and do they really want to be a part of that?” Gerrish said. Moreover, the financial situation across the country of “having to make do with less is difficult.”

Another potential complication is South Portland’s recent turbulent past, marked by controversy and division around issues ranging from the treatment of businesses and the pending lawsuit over the city’s Clear Skies Ordinance, to the behavior of individual councilors.

“South Portland has certainly seen its fair share of issues come up that have been contentious,” Councilor Eben Rose told Gerrish. “I’m wondering if you have any comments on how that would affect the search?”

Gerrish said the publicity of those issues “speaks for itself … will it affect somebody? Yes.”

A good candidate will do as much research as possible, and likely ask “each one of you a question: ‘How do you get along with each other,'” Gerrish said. “I’m just telling you, that’s going to happen.”

At the end of the day, “some candidates may say, ‘That’s not the community for me, … you’re going to have some candidates who are going to want to have a discussion with you about how you all work together.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA


South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.