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Divided Brunswick council picks Eldridge to continue as town manager

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Divided Brunswick council picks Eldridge to continue as town manager

BRUNSWICK — A divided and incomplete Town Council on Monday selected interim Town Manager John Eldridge for the full-time position.

Councilors voted 5-3 to authorize Chairman Benet Pols and the town attorney to negotiate a contract with Eldridge. The agreement will be returned to the council for ratification.

The vote followed a 35-minute closed-door executive session with attorney Stephen Langsdorf.

Councilors Suzan Wilson, David Watson and Gerald Favreau voted against the motion, made by Councilor Steve Walker. Councilor John Richardson did not attend the meeting because of a prior commitment. 

Explaining his motion, Walker said that given the public input he had received it was clear "folks had the highest confidence" in Eldridge's ability to continue as town manager.

Besides serving as the interim town manager, Eldridge is Brunswick's finance director, a position he has held for the last 26 years.

"My personal experience with him, I'm very comfortable with this decision and I look forward to moving Brunswick forward ahead under his leadership," Walker added.

The council has been searching for a new top executive for the better part of a year.

Former Town Manager Gary Brown announced his resignation last December and was dismissed by the council in February, when Eldridge was appointed temporary manager.

In July, the council announced that six candidates had been selected from a pool of 49 applicants. Among the finalists chosen for interviews were Eldridge, Presque Isle City Manager James Bennett and a third, unidentified candidate who later asked to be removed from consideration.

Eldridge and Bennett attended public question-and-answer sessions in Brunswick last month.

In an interview Tuesday morning, Eldridge said he had felt "pretty confident" about his chances, and was pleased with the council's decision.

"Brunswick really does feel like home, and I'm grateful that I am able to continue on here, even in a different capacity," Eldridge said.

He said he hopes to move into his new offices on the second floor of the town office soon and get to work, specifically on developing long-term financial planning for the town, which he has pushed for since this year's budget deliberations.

Speaking in support of their votes to offer Eldridge the job, Councilors Sarah Brayman, Jane Millett, John Perreault, Pols and Walker said the feedback they received from the public showed Eldridge has broad support in town.

Millett told councilors more than 25 people had contacted her to express their support for Eldridge.

"They trust him, they know his skill set, and I think he's the person that Brunswick needs right now," she said.

Brayman recalled that she started working with Eldridge as a community activist several years ago, and found him to be open and communicative. She said Eldridge was "quietly innovative" during the council's interview with him.

But other councilors said they opposed the decision because they would like to see a different manager and because of the process used.

Although she has also received calls from her constituents in support of Eldridge, and thinks he would do a good job as town manager, Wilson said "the old libertarian" in her was interested in "shaking things up" and moving in a new direction. 

"I'm sure that my colleagues do not necessarily see it that way at this time," Wilson said, adding that "stability and familiarity" seemed to the the order of the day for other councilors.

"I am willing to work along with that," she said.

Speaking immediately before the vote, Watson said he was opposed because the decision was being made without all councilors present.

In an phone interview Monday night, Richardson, who did not attend the meeting, said he received notice of the meeting on Friday afternoon, too late to reschedule an existing commitment in Rockland. 

Nevertheless, he congratulated Eldridge for the council's decision, and said the council would "move forward" with it.

Pols, in an email, said councilors received personality assessments on the two candidates on Sept. 16, and he informed them immediately he would schedule a meeting as soon as practical, which turned out to be Monday.

The assessments and personal references produced by the town's consultants from the Maine Municipal Association "simply confirmed what we already had in our possession," in terms of skills, style and personality, Pols said.

"Decisions made by large groups are complex. Once a majority coalesces around one outcome the only solution for those who disagree is to delay," he added. "It would have been a disservice to the people of Brunswick and to the town staff to delay any further. Most important, it would have been unfair to Mr. Bennett."

Peter L. McGuire can be reached at 781-3661 ext 100 or pmcguire@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter @mcguiremidcoast.