Casco search: MMA addresses shifting landscape of municipal managers

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Starting in mid-January, the Casco Board of Selectmen will be involved in the search for a new town manager to replace Dave Morton who is retiring in June 2019.

The landscape of municipal managers has changed much since Morton was hired in 1978.

The candidate “pool is small. There are fewer choices,” according to Dave Barrett, the director of Personnel Services and Labor Relations for the Maine Municipal Association (MMA).

A town manager job opening once drew 80 applications, but now that number is closer to 30, Barrett said.

Selectman Thomas Peaslee posed some questions to Barrett which prompted some conversation during the board’s Nov. 13 meeting.

“Has the climate changed in hiring a town manager?” Peaslee asked.

Barrett said that the candidate pool was slim and then proceeded to explain why.

“There are a lot of reasons for that. The university system doesn’t have the same robust town manager program it once did,” Barrett said.

Also, there is a 3.4 unemployment rate for the month of October. Therefore, the number of professionals who are out of work and actively looking for employment is down, he said.

“People don’t spend the same amount of time in a career as they once did,” he said.

“I think there has been a governmental tone change. That is me editorializing. There is a little less civility, a little less ability to work together — that plays into staffing,” he said.

“Then, you add the aging demographics.

We are an aging population. There are not a lot of young people moving” to Maine for work, he said.

Peaslee asked why people are switching careers or moving to new jobs more often than in decades’ past.

“There is a career path,” Barrett said. “You enter the profession, and do it in a relatively small community that has more limited responsibilities and less opportunities and less pay.”

Then, those town managers move to a slightly bigger community with more responsibilities and more pay, he said.

“Not everyone wants to be the city manager of Portland. People find their town manager sweet spot,” Barrett said.

The selectmen will likely tailor their list of skills and qualifications they desire in a municipal manager to the needs of the town for the next five years based on that being the typical length of time a person stays in that position, he said.

Peaslee continued with his list of questions.

“Is there any way to entice a good town manager?” Peaslee asked.

“You have two things going for you,” Barrett said, citing the rural community of Casco and the length of time the current town manager has stayed in his position.

“Casco is a good location. It’s a place where people would want to come to work,” he said.

“These are candidates who do their research.

If they see a community that has had a town manager for 40 years versus one that has a new town manager every three years, it is going to be perceived as a stable place to pursue their vocation,” he said.

Peaslee asked about setting a fair wage.

“You will help us with things we don’t know like the pay scale. That is a scary process since we haven’t done it in a long time,” Peaslee said.

Barrett agreed.

“A place that recruits regularly, they are more likely to be in tune to the labor market. If you are recruiting for a position that you haven’t for 40 years, you are” less likely to be up-to-date on the current wages, he said.

He said the board might approach it one of two ways: Hiring someone with less work experience because a longtime staff could provide more support or hiring someone with 10 years or more experience.

The latter choice “moves you into another category,” he said.

“Wage rates in Maine are going up because there are so few workers,” Barrett said. “The whole wage scale is moving. Wages are going up, that is going to effect the whole organization.”

Morton brought up the downside of the meet and greet format of hiring.

“What makes a town manager candidate reluctant is a show and tell at the end. A lot of managers are in a secure position” and do not want to jeopardize that by making their job search public, Morton said.

Barrett addressed that issue.

“Public participation can take many forms,” he said.

Some communities get down to two candidates and have an open forum,” Barrett said, citing the case of the Town of Gorham.

“It was televised and it was all over everywhere,” he said.

In order to not discourage some candidates, the Casco selectmen may opt for a limited meet and greet.

“Maybe a couple folks get invited to sit in on the interview panel. That way, the candidates’ names wouldn’t be in the [news]papers,” Barrett said.

The selectmen hired MMA to aid with the hiring process. Those services cost $5,500. That does not include advertising costs or the cost of paying for a hotel for someone who is traveling a distance for the interview, Barrett said.

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