, Newburyport, MA

April 23, 2013

Selectmen start search for new manager

Seabrook: Board will find candidates without outside help

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SEABROOK — Selectmen will take on the job of finding a new town manager on their own, after dismissing the idea of hiring a professional firm or forming a local search committee to help with the task.

In an about-face from previously proposed search formats, selectmen voted unanimously yesterday to do all the work themselves, from creating and posting the advertisements to screening resumes, interviewing and making the final decision. Their initial hope of hiring a professional employment company to help with the search — as had been the board’s habit in past searches — was deemed too expensive.

“It’s not $5,000 any more (to hire a firm),” Selectman Ed Hess said at yesterday’s special meeting.

Hess said the firms the town investigated would charge anywhere from $18,000 to as much as 25 percent of the new town manager’s salary, which could amount to more than $25,000 if the new manager’s salary equals $100,000 or more.

“The cost factor was prohibitive,” said Selectman Ray Smith. “It’s no longer (financially) practical.”

Another big change in the previously discussed town manager selection process was offered by Selectman Aboul Khan, when he said the formation of a local search committee would be too time-consuming.

Yet, it was Khan in February who first came up with the notion of pulling together a committee, suggesting the make-up include the town clerk, treasurer and tax collector, along with the chairpersons of the Planning Board and Budget Committee. At the time, Khan thought the committee could read and cull resumes and even do the first round of interviews, then winnow down the field to a list of finalists for selectmen.

In rejecting that idea, Khan said he’d examined the selectmen’s options, and handling the search themselves was well within their authority, according to state law.

“The Board of Selectmen has the right to hire the town manager,” Khan said. “It’s the board’s choice.”

According to Smith, last Friday the board sat down in private session with their attorney to discuss their options and the laws related to finding and appointing a town manager.

Selectmen also approved the language of the advertisement for the job. Under the list of requirements, selectmen want a demonstrated record of management; personnel, financial, and communication skills; a working knowledge New Hampshire municipal law; experience in union negotiations; and at least three to five years of work in public administration.

Selectmen said they will post their ad in the same publications, websites and venues used in past searches. Deadline for applications is May 22, and according to Khan, selectmen will review every resume that comes their way.

Smith suggested blacking out the names of candidates before selectmen review the resumes, to avoid charges of giving some candidates preferential treatment.

“That way no one can accuse anybody of favoritism or anything else,” Smith said. “It keeps it fair.”

It’s been nearly 11 months since selectmen abruptly suspended former manager Barry Brenner for undisclosed reasons. The job was filled in early June by interim Town Manager Joe Titone, who said he thought he’d only be at the helm for about three months.

Brenner’s separation from the town became permanent in October 2012, when both parties reached a settlement that awarded Brenner $129,675.69, or the equivalent of 10 and a half months worth of salary and benefits in accordance to the terms of his contract.

According to the separation document, the money represents $110,080.08 in direct salary, with the appropriate payroll and tax deductions. In addition, the town will pay $19,595.61 for Brenner’s retirement costs. The agreement also says that beyond the financial settlement, the town had already paid Brenner his earned vacation pay.

A confidentiality agreement prohibits selectmen from discussing why Brenner was terminated.

Brenner followed former Town Manager Scott Dunn, who resigned after about a year on the job, citing personal reasons for his departure.