SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The town will be searching for a full-time manager, after selectmen rejected a proposal to ask current Town Clerk Marilyn Lowell to take on the duties of manager. In a split 3-2 vote, the board decided to continue working with the Maine Municipal Association on the search for a new manager.
Selectmen Dan Norwood and George Jellison voted against the motion, while Selectmen Chad Terry, Lydia Goetze and Ryan Donahue argued in favor of advertising the position and interviewing a pool of candidates.
“The opportunity to work with the MMA is in the best interest of the town,” said Donahue.
The meeting had a packed audience.
“We have to decide whether to maintain the status quo or have someone do more innovative work at a full-time position,” said Anne Napier of the Harbor Committee, adding that she is in favor of soliciting input from residents by conducting a citizen survey through POLCO, the town’s online civic participation platform.
Corey Pettegrow, also of the Harbor Committee, strongly supported Jellison’s proposal of offering Assistant Manager Marilyn Lowell the position of town manager in conjunction with town clerk duties to avoid the costs of employing an additional staff member.
Pettegrow said he is concerned about the board’s seeming lack of transparency in the process, as well as the $4,900 MMA fee, which, he thought, was a heavy cost for a small town like Southwest Harbor.
The contract with the MMA includes the expenses of running background searches on potential candidates, a cost that the town would incur in any case, resident Kristen Hutchins said. She also said that the search for town manager has to be conducted by an objective third party. Otherwise, the current staff would be hiring its own boss, which, she said, would be an obvious conflict of interest.
The selectmen could not agree on most of the other items on its agenda, deferring several decisions to future meetings.
Tuesday’s meeting also included discussions on whether the town should buy the post office parking lot. Town Manager Don Lagrange suggested budgeting $700,000 for the purchase and reconstruction of the post office parking lot. He said the lot was a “maintenance nightmare” and costs the town a lot of money each winter.
Jellison said the parking lot shouldn’t go on the ballot before the board is presented with research on it. Donahue agreed, saying the board would need to know what the boundaries of the lot are before asking the town to vote.
Residents in attendance were mostly supportive of purchasing the parking lot.
“If that [parking lot] goes away for some reason, you’re really going to hear about it,” Planning Board member Mike Magnani said. “I don’t think it’s an issue of whether we should buy it. Like the Hook property, it’s invaluable to the town.”
Another decision the selectmen postponed is the revision of the term “structure” in shoreland zones, as well as funding for the school playground.