The Town Council is closer to determining what it wants in the next Town Administrator, thanks to a menu of options prepared by Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau.
Budreau, who is also Human Resources Director for the town, presented a list of three goals and 21 qualifications to use in the search process for Derry’s next administrator. Councilors rated each item and emerged with a better picture of who they want, male or female, to run the town for them.
Budreau wrote in a memo, “I submit that the town’s next Administrator must excel in three areas.” He asked the Councilors to rate the goals on a scale of one to five, from “Don’t really agree” to “Makes good sense” (3) to “Completely agree” (5).
“I feel like we’re on ‘American Idol,’” Chairman Michael Fairbanks quipped as the members reeled off their ratings.
The first goal was to expand and diversify the tax base, with an administrator who is a “knowledgeable visionary” in this area. The ideal candidate will direct community development, work with public and private funding sources, engage business leaders and improve Derry’s attractiveness to business.
Most Councilors gave this a 5. Neil Wetherbee qualified it, “It would be great if he or she had some kind of a track record,” he said. Phyllis Katsakiores, giving a 5, liked the idea of working with public and private funding sources. Tom Cardon gave it a 5, noting, “One thing we have is history on our side. We know what worked in the past and what didn’t.” Benson gave it a 5.
Fairbanks gave it a 5 and observed that the new administrator should look at short and long-term solutions. Wetherbee agreed, noting that the town’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district is not expected to provide a full tax benefit for eight to 10 years.
Mark Osborne rated this one between 2 and 3. “In practical terms, we don’t know how it’s going to play out,” he said. “Is he or she going to be the town salesperson as well as our head of government?” Osborne observed that “selling” Derry couldn’t always be done by phone, but would involve in-person contact, possibly out of state.
“I don’t want to see this as a primary goal,” Osborne said. “I don’t want this person to be running the town in between marketing it. Has this been a goal for previous administrators?”
Fairbanks said it had been a goal in the past. And Budreau said he didn’t envision this as the administrator coming up with a “tangible work product,” but providing leadership for a possible community development director.
Councilor Al Dimmock at that point objected to the entire process. “I don’t think this board should be making requirements for a new administrator until after the election,” he said. He pointed out that two seats, Councilor At Large and District 3, currently held by Benson and Wetherbee, are open.
“The voters have the choice,” he said. “We’re only a partial council until after the election.”
“Should we not meet until after the election?” Wetherbee asked.
Fairbanks told Dimmock, “I can almost guarantee we won’t be through this process until after the election.”
Budreau said, “It is only fair, in my opinion, to meet and get this process going. Five of the seven Councilors will still be seated after the election.”
“The goal is to give Larry some general direction,” Wetherbee said.
The Council had agreed in a prior meeting to go into nonpublic session when it had to discuss personalities. When Dimmock began to discuss former Administrator John Anderson, saying, “A lot of people said, ‘What an outstanding guy,’” Fairbanks said, “I need to stop you right there.”
“The Town of Derry is failing,” Dimmock said. “We’ve had all kinds of problems.
“I am doing my job,” he added. “I believe the full council that’s going to vote on this person should be the one making the rules and regulations.”
Dimmock abstained on the first goal, but participated in later discussions.
The second goal was Municipal and School District collaboration, with Budreau writing, “Reducing or slowing the pace of growth of Derry’s tax rate will require influencing (not forcing) the school system to embrace a goal of reducing the town’s property taxes.” The new administrator should demonstrate an understanding of the school budget and be sensitive to the drivers of educational spending, he said.
“I’d make this a 6 if I could,” Wetherbee quipped. “It’s all well and good for one board to tell another, ‘you should be doing things differently.’ We know the things that drive our board. The schools are a different set of circumstances.”
Benson and Katsakiores gave it a 5. Fairbanks hovered between 4 and 5, noting, “This is very important to me, but not as important as economic development.” Cardon gave it a 5. Osborne did also, noting, “if we don’t address the tax issue, no one will want to come to Derry.” Dimmock gave it a 5, saying, “We need to understand the School Board, they need to understand us.”
The third goal was leading an organization that delivers top-rate services efficiently. Budreau wrote, “As we probably cannot reduce staff without affecting service levels, the next administrator must be an effective leader…whose knowledge, work ethic and vision command respect…and secondly, he or she must be a productive and responsive individual contributor.” Budreau explained the latter meant that the administrator must be willing to type his or her own memos and answer the phone when needed.
Osborne said he’d give this one a 6 if he could. “He or she will be best reflected by how well the government runs,” he said.
The other six Councilors gave it a 5.
Budreau then broke down the “characteristics” he thought the Council might be looking for into personal and professional. These would be rated 1 to 5, “not important to me,” “important,” and very important.”
1. Able to deal with the uncertainty of administering a municipal government for a community conflicted about the benefits of continued growth. The tally was: Cardon, 2, Osborne, 3, Dimmock, 3, Fairbanks, 4, Katsakiores, 5, Wetherbee, 5 and Benson, 5.
2. Willing to play a highly visible role in the community. Benson, 3-4, Wetherbee, 3, Katsakiores, 3, Fairbanks, 4, Dimmock, 4, Osborne, 3, Cardon, 3.
3. Able to delegate internal managerial responsibility, holding the staff accountable. Benson, 4, Katsakiores, 4, Osborne, 3, Cardon, 4, Dimmock, 3, Fairbanks, 4, Wetherbee, 3.
4. Willing to work openly with community groups and employees; not confrontational, but direct, collegial and facilitative, with “no agenda beyond being a professional.” Cardon, 4, Osborne, 5, Dimmock, Fairbanks and Katsakiores, 5, Wetherbee, 4.
5. A team leader able to work with other town officials in a participative municipal environment, with experience “within a comparable community with a history of proven customer service to a demanding but supportive electorate.” Wetherbee and Fairbanks, 4, everyone else 5.
6. A spokesperson and representative for the Council and Administration to the community and the region. Benson, 3, Wetherbee, 5, Fairbanks, Katsakiores and Dimmock, all 4, Cardon, 3 and Osborne, 2. “That’s our job, to represent the Council,” Osborne said.
7. A take-charge but not totally hands-on leader. All seven Councilors gave this a 3.
8. A genuinely inclusive leader who leads by example and commitment. Cardon, 2, Osborne, Dimmock, Wetherbee and Fairbanks, 3, Katsakiores and Benson, 4.
9. A resident of Derry. Cardon gave this a 1, noting he is not a fan of “residential requirements. It limits your pool of candidates.” Osborne agreed, saying, “There are a lot of things going on here, but where you live should not be one of them.” Wetherbee also gave it a 1, saying, “We won’t get everything we want. Of all the skills listed here, this is the least important.” But, he added, if two people came in with identical skill sets, he’d give the edge to the person willing to live in Derry. Katsakiores gave it a 3 and Benson gave it a 2.
The Council also rated professional attributes they’d like to see in their next administrator.
The Council discussed the next steps with Budreau, who listed the values of hiring a search firm. “It’s a taxing situation, not an easy chore,” he said of seeking and reviewing resumes. He said he had the skills to do that, but wasn’t sure he had the time. He also noted this would have to be done in nonpublic session.
Wetherbee suggested putting out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a search firm, “just to establish some real numbers.” Budreau said when they did their last search, they paid MRI $15,500. He estimated that a comparable search would cost between $15,000 and $20,000, and agreed to draft an RFP.
The Council agreed to revisit the issue at its Feb. 18 meeting, as an agenda item with public input allowed.