Eaton Peabody Associates’ Don Gerrish tapped residents Aug. 21 for input on Boothbay Harbor’s ideal town manager. Selectmen hired Gerrish July 23 to conduct a town manager search and Gerrish and the board made a timeline that projects a November hire.
Gerrish has met with the public in town manager searches for the past seven years. He asks townspeople and officials what issues face the town and what characteristics, education and experience people expect of a new town manager. Boothbay Harbor’s answers will go on the town's website and to candidates.
The town will advertise the job on Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts municipal associations’ websites and the International City Managers Association’s website. The application deadline is Wednesday, Sept. 25 and Gerrish said he expects a new manager to be announced by November 11-15.
“You're going to find people that have certain traits, certain abilities, certain experience, certain education. If you find someone that meets all of your needs then you've done well … You want the person who fits your community … The manager has kind of two functions: Make sure the town runs good … (and) help the community do their long range planning – what they want to do and where they want to go.”
Gerrish stressed that residents should approach the questions with positivity rather than reflecting on mistakes, but resident Norm Pierce opened with his view that the town has had some “duds.”
“What I'm looking for is a person who can step in and maintain what the past one has achieved in that we have reserve funds now, we've had relatively little tax increases and we've had good services,” said Pierce. “He was a local and I would much prefer a local.”
Summer resident Beth Kleine and resident Dorothy Ferrell agreed about looking locally for the hire. “I truly believe there is such a depth of feeling about the loyalty to this area by the people who live here … Definitely someone who knows the community and has aspirations for maintaining the community,” said Kleine. The right candidate will put waterfront preservation at the forefront of their efforts, she added.
Ferrell said she defines a local as someone who lives on the peninsula, knows the important issues are housing, jobs and education and knows they must have an active role in creating solutions to the town's issues. Ferrell gave an example of an old hometown of hers in Georgia and how a delegation of community officials and a chamber of commerce director visited Proctor and Gamble’s headquarters to showcase the unused workforce in their neighborhoods.
“(We) ended up having more manufacturing facilities in the state of Georgia than any other state,” said Ferrell. “I'd like to see a town manager who would go to the headquarters of someone and say, 'This is what we have to offer,' and we do have a lot to offer, but I'd like to see that kind of initiative.”
Bob McKay agreed it will be important for the new manager to be enough of a visionary to look in and outside town for resources to increase prosperity. “He shouldn't be just a pencil pusher … he should have his own ideas besides running the town. He should be comfortable enough to put his input into the select board and planning board on how things should work.”
Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patricia Royall echoed members’ concerns on housing and a lack of younger residents.
“We have a crisis going on here and it's big,” said Royall. “There are help wanted signs all over, so part of that is bringing young people here and being proactive in doing that. Right now, you go to the town website and there's nothing that says 'Come move to Boothbay Harbor' … I would like to see the new town manager really take that aspect and work on it so we all have a future here.”
Selectman Denise Griffin said she foresees budget challenges. She said residents need to be aware the town will have capital improvements, including some work on the footbridge. She said these projects come after 10 years of low tax rate increases. The town may need a manager willing to constantly pursue municipal grants, she said. There was a murmur of agreement.
Budget Committee member Bill Coll agreed, but pointed out the property tax rate has increased from just under 10.0 to nearly 12.0, and that is a harsh reality for the many older residents on fixed incomes.
“The level of thought that has caused us to be where we are now can't be used to solve the problems of the future,” Coll said.
He said the manager needs to be out ahead of the issues: Policy needs to be reviewed, particularly departmental budget rules, and a looming revaluation and possible recession need to be taken into account as well, Coll said. The town must also work on reinforcing the foundation of its main source of revenue, tourism, and tourism is changing with the times, he said. “The millenials will not work like my generation will work … We have to know the generational aspects, that there's different norms that these kids adhere to than what they had in the past … I'm not necessarily limited to the status quo … I think times change and we need to adjust to the changes.”