Updated: Brunswick council makes Brown top choice for town manager

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BRUNSWICK — Gary Brown, Brunswick’s acting town manager for the last seven months, is now one step away from becoming the town’s chief executive. 

The Town Council announced Brown as its consensus choice for the town manager position Wednesday night after a closed-door session. The council will now begin contract negotiations with Brown and vote on his confirmation on or before Sept. 8. 

Brown had been a finalist along with Laurie Smith, the assistant city manager of Auburn. The two candidates were the subject of a flurry of special council meetings this week, including an unanticipated second interview on Tuesday, which appears to have been triggered by outspoken citizens. 

Chairwoman Hallie Daughtry said Wednesday that lobbying for a particular candidate had increased this week.

“The contacts have been across the spectrum,” she said. “The intensity of the phone calls really picked up on Monday and Tuesday. … The majority of the calls wanted us to take a second round of interviews, and that’s what we did.”

On Tuesday, Vice Chairman Benet Pols said he wasn’t sure if the council was drawing closer to an agreement on the top choice, adding that some councilors had expressed interest in bringing in an entirely new field of candidates. 

“I thought I could have predicted the votes after the (July 14 interview with the candidates),” Pols said. “But there have been some shifts since then. I’m not sure if those shifts are because of constituent calls or background information (about the candidates).”

Pols said councilors had been fielding numerous calls from civic leaders and “the usual suspects” seeking to influence the manager search. Given the apparent diversity of the lobbyists, and the inherent division among councilors, neither Pols or Daughtry expected a unanimous choice.

The council’s decision to make Brown the leading candidate Wednesday night was the result of a straw poll, not an official vote. Daughtry could not be reached before deadline to say how divided the council might have been. 

Daughtry on Wednesday acknowledged the increased momentum of the search process, saying it was time to make a decision. 

The council had previously experienced criticism about the duration of the search process. But on Tuesday, Pols defended it, saying it would’ve been “absurd” to select a manager after interviewing each candidate for an “hour and a half.”

“That’s about two questions per councilor,” Pols said. “That’s a short amount of time for a big decision. … The only decision we could have made was to pick (Brown) because we wouldn’t have done our due diligence on (Smith).”

“I would support this process even it took us another three months,” Pols added. 

The council is seeking a replacement for Don Gerrish, who officially retired in December, but who announced he was leaving almost a year ago. Since then the council’s initial consultant essentially went out of business. It settled on a new consultant, Municipal Resources Inc., in the spring and began fielding candidates early this summer. 

“Even if we chose (MRI) the first, we’d only be two months ahead of where we are now,” said Pols, adding that he didn’t believe the length of the process would hurt Brown’s chances.

“The longer the search goes and the longer (Brown) competently serves, the better for him, ” Pols said.

The council will now engage Brown in contract negotiations and conduct a background check. Daughtry acknowledged that announcing the final candidate could compromise the council’s bargaining position, but she said it was important to maintain a transparent process.

Daughtry also defended the council’s decision not to do extensive background checks on both candidates before announcing the finalist, potentially decreasing the runner-up’s chances of accepting the position if something emerges on the consensus choice. 

“I don’t anticipate any skeletons in either of the candidates’ closets,” Daughtry said. “These are public figures. … If something does come up, then we will do what we have to do.”

Brown could not be reached for comment.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net