Staff take on changing roles at Falmouth Town Hall

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FALMOUTH — It will cost the town a little more money, but the expense will be worth it in the long run, Town Manager Nathan Poore said this week about a new staffing plan at Town Hall.

As of now, Ethan Croce, the former land use planner, has taken over the role of community development director that was held by Amanda Stearns.

Stearns is now the open space manager. She’s taking over from Bob Shafto, who’s been the town’s contracted open space ombudsman for the past 10 years.

In addition, through the end of next April, Stearns will also take on special planning projects in an attempt to assist the Town Council in wading through its annual work plan, Poore said.

Newly hired Dawn Emerson has taken over Croce’s former post as land use planner.

In all, the changes will cost an additional $40,000 in this year’s municipal budget, Poore said, but he also said things couldn’t have worked out more perfectly, particularly when it’s difficult to find qualified municipal employees.

Shafto will stay on into December, Poore said, to assist in the transition. Stearns will eventually be working out of an office shared with the Falmouth Land Trust at the Mason-Motz Community Center.

As the community development director, Croce is now a department head whose responsibilities include overseeing the code enforcement and planning staff, among other duties.

Croce will also begin to take over Stearns’ role as the primary staff liaison to the Town Council Community Development Committee.

“Ethan couldn’t be a better choice in terms of his education and background and his writing, zoning and planning skills are just what’s needed,” Poore said.

He didn’t advertise for the community development director post knowing that he had the perfect internal candidate. “This was really a very easy decision,” Poore added.

In terms of Stearns being able and willing to take over Shafto’s duties, Poore said, “it’s quite an opportunity for the town.” That’s especially true, he said, since Stearns is “quite qualified to take over Bob’s position.”

The overall staff changes are “a really, really good fit. All the stars just aligned perfectly on this one,” Poore said.

Even so, he said losing Shafto would be a blow because “he’s just been a superstar” when it came to the town’s open space planning and acquisitions over the last decade.

“Bob has created a program that will be enjoyed by the public for hundreds of years to come,” Poore said.

He said the new open space manager post is a three-year position and, through April, Stearns will work 20 hours on open space issues and 20 hours on special land use projects, including the proposed contract zone for West Falmouth.

Other projects that Stearns will focus on, according to Poore, include re-codifying the zoning ordinances and transferring them into a new software program.

“Both Ethan and Amanda will continue to wear multiple hats for a while,” he said, adding that so far “things are working out nicely in terms of the transition.”

Emerson has 14 years of municipal planning experience and has worked for communities in both Maine and New Hampshire, Poore said, including for the neighboring town of Yarmouth.

She also has experience working for Falmouth.

According to Poore, in recent years Emerson has worked part time in the Town Clerk’s Office during elections and was also tapped to assist with “several special planning assignments” as well.

Although Poore had to do some juggling to come up with the additional money needed to keep Stearns full time, it’s “money well spent,” he said.

“We have a number of projects that need to be completed, so she’ll be very, very busy” helping the Council to get through its current workload.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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