New Harrison Town Manager promises open door policy

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

HARRISON — Soon after he was hired as Harrison’s new town manager, George “Bud” Finch got right to work, creating spreadsheets of the town’s expenses.

He held up the pieces of paper during an interview on Friday in his new office at town hall.

ON THE JOB — His first day on the job, new Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch (on the right) conferred with resident Matthew Frank over the design for the new town sign Frank and his brother have donated for the Harrison Town Office.

“I’m a spreadsheet analysis person. This is a separate finance report, it shows every month, every expense,” he said. “As town manager, I have a very strong requirement that selectmen will have every piece of information they need. And I have been accused more than once of providing too much information.”

Bud, as he likes to be called, said he will make himself available to the board and Harrison residents “24/7.” He promises an open door policy as he settles in to town, and the cottage on Long Lake he’s renting this winter from Muffett Crowell while she’s in Italy.

Finch, the former City Manager for 15 years in Eastport, was hired by a unanimous vote of the board of selectmen at their Nov. 9 meeting to replace Brad Plante, who resigned in September. He will be paid a salary of $52,000 a year under a one-year contract. According to Board Vice Chairman Lisa Villa, Finch was the board’s top choice throughout the interview process, during which around 45 applications were narrowed to 10, and then three finalists.

Finch was a finalist in other towns with town manager openings, and he had other offers he could have accepted. But, he said Harrison seemed like the right fit for him.

It wasn’t the money that drew him, he said. “For a person who is making less money than I was 16 years ago as an engineer, I’m certainly not doing it for the money,” he said. Before switching careers in midlife to municipal government, Finch was a product engineer for Pratt & Whitney from 1979 to 1995.

The town of Harrison stood out, he said, because “I found a community that has a passion for itself the way I have a passion for the communities I serve.”

Days after being hired, Finch bussed tables and served meals for the huge crowd that turned out for the VFW Post’s Veterans’ Day dinner. It was a way for him to meet the residents, and for them to meet him, he said.

“I often tell people that I have a second grade government education. I still believe the government works for me,” Finch said. “When people come in to town hall they are not only the customers, they own the business.”

One of his first orders of business, he said, is to talk with all 14 of the town’s employees, to find out what exactly it is they do, and how he can help to give them the tools to make their work more productive.

“I see the pyramid as inverted, and I’m the person on the bottom,” he said. “You can’t blame them if they don’t have the tools to do the job,” he said. “Most good people, if given an opportunity to perform well, do, and most bad people, if given enough rope, will hang themselves.”

Finch said he made it clear during the interview process that he needs the board’s support in order to do a good job. Asked to compare his management style with that of his predecessor, Plante, who tended to be more controlling, Finch said, “My philosophy is plain and simple. They make the policy, I administer the policy. I do not try to do their job, and they do not try to do my job. The only issue I have is that the employees work for me. I control what they do and discipline them when they’re doing wrong.”

Finch grew up in Eastport, an island city of around 1,700 residents, and has a large extended family there. During his years as an engineer, he lived and raised his family in Wells, where he served for six years as a selectman and was active on the fire department as well as rescue.

He took the city manager’s job in Eastport initially on a temporary basis, but it eventually became permanent. During his time there he chaired the Eastport Port Authority’s Board of Directors, served on the board of directors of the Marion Transfer Station and Calais Regional Hospital, and was chairman of the Washington County Emergency Medical Service Authority, a 25-member community regional ambulance service.

Finch also served on the Maine Municipal Association’s Legislative Policy Committee and has testified numerous times in front of legislative committees on bills critical to municipalities.

In 1995-96, he completed the Masters Program in Public Policy and Management at the Muskie Institute and USM, in addition to his engineering degrees.

Finch said he decided to leave the city manager’s job in Eastport in August of 2009, when he had a falling out with several board members, but stayed on until April when a replacement could be found. He did not say what the conflict with the board members was about.

“I have a philosophy. When the political winds change, you should do what’s in the best interests of the town,” he said. With the death of first his father, and then his mother, he no longer had as much of a reason to stay in Eastport, he said.

“I thought I’d find something in the private sector. I didn’t think I wanted to do this anymore,” Finch said. He said he spent “the most wonderful summer” just enjoying the sun — and almost even bought a place in Key West, Fla. “Then I found out I loved the work,” he said, referring to municipal government. “I wanted to get back in management — and besides, I was putting on too much weight.”

The Harrison job initially attracted him because it was advertised as possibly an interim position. He also has a son living nearby, in Norway, and other family within easy commuting distance. Finch said he’s been up front with the board that he doesn’t know if he will buy a home in Harrison, although he will live in town in order to be available to residents.

“This is the furthest inland I’ve ever applied for a job,” he said. “My desire is to do a good job,” he said, and so far, all signs are looking good. He looks forward to getting to work really soon on next year’s budget. “I love it,” he said.

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