What will new economic development director do?

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

The new Director of Economic and Community Planning and Development for the Town of Bridgton will have duties assigned to him or her that focus on attracting new commercial enterprises to the community while retaining current businesses and assisting them in expanding.

However, the position description has been revised to seek out someone who also has obtained certification as a municipal planner.

Alan Manoian has submitted his resignation from the Economic and Community Development Director’s post, effective Jan. 2, 2012. Manoian’s job title did not include the word “Planning”.

The Bridgton Board of Selectmen discussed at length, last week, who should review the applications of the candidates for Director of Economic and Community Planning and Development, as well as what duties the person will be asked to carry out. In the end, they voted unanimously to approve the draft job description and go forward with the process of seeking a replacement for Manoian.

Under the town manager/board of selectmen form of municipal government prescribed by state law, the town manager has the authority to hire and/or fire all appointed positions. However, it is the board of selectmen who set policies and approve job descriptions.

In a memo to selectmen dated Dec. 6, regarding replacing Manoian, Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz stated, “The position description is revised and it will require municipal planning skills, as well.” Berkowitz said Dec. 13 that he expects the successful candidate for the position will be paid in the range of between $45,000 and $50,000.

Berkowitz said further, “I am also proposing to follow a similar hiring process as we did with Chief of Police (Kevin) Schofield,” which used a committee to select and interview prospective candidates. The town manager went on to recommend the committee be comprised of one member each from the Board of Selectmen, Bridgton Community Development Committee, Bridgton Economic Development Corporation and the Bridgton Planning Board, as well as “one citizen at large member chosen by the town manager.”

Berkowitz said the position could be advertised beginning Dec. 19 and use a target date of Jan. 9, 2012 for the receipt of applications with the first round of interviews scheduled for the week of Jan. 16. He said he expects this would lead to a second round of interviews “of the top two or three candidates” on Monday, Jan. 23, with “a third interview of the top candidate” the week of Feb. 2.

“With a good process, the Board of Selectmen would hear of the recommended finalist during the week of Feb. 6 with a public notification at your Board of Selectmen meeting of Feb. 14th,” Berkowitz said, in his Dec. 6 memo.

Selectman Paul Hoyt said Dec. 13 that when the town hired Chief Schofield last spring the review committee members “were all professionals in that (law enforcement) area…I don’t see the same professional aspect with this committee.”

Bridgton Board of Selectmen Chairman Arthur Triglione Sr. stated, “I think we’re going to be hard pressed, to some degree, to have a review committee (for this position) made up of professionals — with law enforcement (professionals), they were all around us.”

Selectman Woody Woodward said that, while he commends Town Manager Berkowitz for recommending a selection committee for the post of Director of Economic and Community Planning and Development he “feels confident” that Berkowitz alone can handle the hiring duties.

“His authorization is to hire that position,” said Woodward, “and I don’t believe a committee is needed.”

Selectman Doug Taft said he agreed with Selectman Hoyt, as to not needing a committee comprised of some professional planners.

“But, I would like to get a planner (on the committee),” Taft said. “I think that someone from that position would maybe give us some light to travel by.”

On the other hand, Selectman Taft said he did not feel having a citizen at large serve on the committee was necessary.

“It’s optional — it’s nice to have,” said Taft.

Selectman Bernie King said he agreed with Taft.

“Yeah, I don’t agree with a citizen at large, but I have to agree with Doug that we are going to need somebody with economic development and planning expertise,” said Selectman King.

Furthermore, King said, “I don’t agree with Woody, to leave it up to the town manager — I think the same (procedure) falls with this as it did with the police chief’s (position).”

“Well, it’s Mitch’s recommendation that we have a committee,” Chairman Triglione replied.

Selectman Woodward said he questioned if this would set a precedent in the future hiring of municipal positions such as “rec director, public works director and the transfer station supervisor.”

Town Manager Berkowitz said the selection committee, as he recommended it be made up, “represents the user groups of that person’s skills and talents. This is a user-based committee. There will be some positions I’ll hire in the future where there won’t be a committee.” Berkowitz said he would add a professional planner to the selection committee’s makeup.

“I will find a municipal planner who is willing to sit in — I think that will round it out,” said Berkowitz. “The committee still has to recommend the candidate to me.”

“I’m saying the (town) manager is competent to do it on his own,” said Woodward. “If he feels he needs the input, I don’t have a problem with it.”

Local developer Mark Lopez suggested the town share a full-time certified planner with neighboring communities, such as Harrison or Fryeburg.

“I question that we need a full-time planner, and besides, planning is a regional concept,” Lopez said. Lopez also asked if any thought had been given to “paying a planner on a consulting basis.”

Selectman Woodward responded to Lopez’s comments, saying, “The biggest thing I’m hearing is (Alan Manoian) is already spread too thin…I think this (new) person will be fulltime and then some.”

“It’s the middle of winter and there’s not a lot going on,” Lopez replied.

“This is a town of 5,000 people,” former selectman Earl Cash stated, “and I don’t think we need an economic development director, per se, as much as a planner. The Town of Freeport, as big as it is, just has a planner. A lot of professionals on that Economic Development Committee could do that (economic development) job — let this (new) person do something else, or something more in depth.”

“I feel impelled to move forward, and time is of the essence,” the town manager told the selectmen.

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