SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen are to decide at their Dec. 12 meeting whether to hire the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) to aid them in their search for a new town manager.
Town Manager Don Lagrange, who is on medical leave, announced earlier this year that he would leave the job as of June 30. At their Nov. 28 meeting, selectmen spoke with David Barrett, MMA’s director of personnel services and labor relations, about the search process.
MMA assists in six to eight town manager searches each year, Barrett said. He currently is helping Tremont in that town’s search for a new town manager.
MMA charges a flat fee of $4,900 for their work. That doesn’t include money spent on advertising, which Barrett estimated to be another $1,000.
Barrett stressed the difficulty of attracting suitable candidates. There was a time when as many as 70 resumes might be submitted, he said, but these days, 30 applicants would be “a decent response.”
In neighboring Tremont, 28 applications for town manager were received, and selectmen there chose to interview six finalists. A replacement for Dana Reed is expected to be hired soon.
Barrett said several factors are behind the drop in applicants. First, many municipal administrators are at or near retirement age, and the crop of younger people to take their place has dwindled as the average age in Maine has climbed. The University of Maine ended its masters program in public administration due to a lack of students, he said.
Secondly, the job has become more complex and subject to conflict as municipalities struggle with economic downturns. You’re no longer doing the fun stuff like building parks, Barrett said, you’re doing “what ticks people off.”
Selectman George Jellison asked about hiring someone part-time.
“I’m not of the opinion that we need a full-time town manager,” he said. Lagrange, who also serves as code enforcement officer and plumbing inspector, spends three-and-a-half days working as town manager, Jellison said.
MMA customizes its searches to meet the requirements specified by town officials, Barrett noted. But, he added, the pool of applicants would be much smaller for a part-time position than for a full-time one.
Barrett told selectmen that they should begin the search process in mid-January in order to have someone to take over for Lagrange at the end of June. Advertising over the holidays is not effective, he said.