Brunswick council seeks public involvement in manager search
BRUNSWICK — The Town Council is considering ways to include residents in the search for a new town manager, following a sparsely attended public forum on the process Monday.
The deadline for candidates to apply for the job was Tuesday.
As of Monday afternoon, the town had received 32 applications, according to David Barrett, a consultant from the Maine Municipal Association hired to facilitate the search.
Councilors intend to meet in private next week to review the applications and schedule first-round interviews with potential candidates.
As it moves forward, the Town Council would like to include the public in its decision-making, but has yet to determine its format.
Prospective candidates are getting used to the fact that the hiring process is no longer totally confidential, Barrett said.
"Many places have a public component of the process at the appropriate time," he told councilors. "That's what I think the council is going to be talking about and thinking about, both what's the proper time and what's the proper vehicle."
Fewer than a dozen residents attended Monday's forum to tell councilors the qualities they would like to see in a new town manager.
Their suggestions included professionalism, sound financial management, ability to represent residential and commercial interests, a sincere interest in caring for and serving the community, and a willingness to listen to the entire community.
In light of the forum's low attendance, councilors tossed around ideas to encourage residents to participate in the process.
Barrett said bringing the public into the interview process is becoming increasingly popular in Maine and typically takes two forms: creating a group to sit in on second-round interviews and offer feedback, or bringing candidates in for a meet-and-greet sessions or tours around town.
Councilor Steve Walker suggested bringing finalists in for a public question-and-answer forum as a third option, acknowledging the event would have to be tightly managed to prevent it from turning into a debate between the applicants.
Although Barrett was unaware if other towns use that approach, he said it could be done, as long as candidates are given advance notice about the public process.
Some councilors and audience members said Walker's idea had merit, especially since it would give people the chance to see how the town manager candidates responded to off-the-cuff questions.
A televised forum could also allow people to ask questions via email and social media, opening up the process to residents who might not be able to attend in person, Council Chairman Benet Pols said.
Others, like Councilor Jane Millett, opposed the idea, suggesting it might lead otherwise-qualified candidates to remove themselves from consideration, and pit the applicants against each another.
School Board Member Rich Ellis also opposed a public forum.
"Having three candidates at the same time would be a disaster," he told councilors. "It would be like 'Thunderdome': three men enter, one man leaves."