Council Argues Over How to Conduct Administrator Search

The devil is in the details, and the details will be hashed out with a mediator.
The Derry Town Council grappled with how to replace Town Administrator John Anderson at its Nov. 5 meeting. Members discussed how much of the search should be public, whether they should do it themselves or hire a firm, and what questions they will want to ask. They agreed to have Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau hire a facilitator to help them refine their search.

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Chairman Michael Fairbanks said in introducing the topic.
But no one could agree on where.
Member Neil Wetherbee immediately moved to go into nonpublic session according to RSA 91-A:3:2. Member Phyllis Katsakiores objected.
“I am offended,” the veteran legislator said, “by us going into nonpublic all the time. I’d like to be able to discuss what we’re looking for in public.”
Wetherbee said he had one question he thinks could not be answered in public.
“Does it pertain to a specific individual?” Councilor Mark Osborne asked.
“Possibly,” Wetherbee said.
The Council voted 4-3 to go into nonpublic, with Katsakiores agreeing to go “if it’s only that one question.”
Councilors Osborne, Al Dimmock and Tom Cardon voted no, and all three declined to go into the nonpublic session, with Osborne saying it was a violation of 91-A.
The other four Councilors were back in five minutes, with Fairbanks saying they did not have a quorum.
Budreau referred to a memo he had written, detailing the issues. “You need to determine the qualifications you want, to identify the skills and qualities,” Budreau said. “You need to discuss how to search for the potential candidate. The last four searches have been with recruiting firms. And you need to discuss the interview process.”
Osborne said he would “start the ball rolling” and he did, by questioning the idea of an executive search firm. “I don’t know why we should spend thousands of dollars for that,” Osborne said. “I can bet you two things: the search firm won’t be from Derry, and won’t have people from Derry working at it.”
The Council, he said, is elected to represent the “best interests of the town,” and the Council is in the best position to find an administrator.
Osborne also observed that the “day of the paper resume” is gone, and that most jobs are obtained through social media. His proposal would save the taxpayers money, he said.
“Are you suggesting that we review the resumes?” Wetherbee asked.
“Yes,” Osborne said.
Fairbanks questioned whether the Council had the time, skills and resources to do so.
Osborne said it was worth the effort. “At the end of the day, that search firm goes away, and we’re stuck with that administrator,” he said.
A search firm would put the town in touch with more candidates, Cardon said. “But,” he added, “We have not had good luck with town administrators. Maybe it’s time we started doing it a little differently, on our own.”
Katsakiores said former administrator Russ Marcoux was “one of the best,” and was acquired through a search firm. Marcoux left Derry to become Bedford Town Manager, and is now deceased.
She said she didn’t think using a firm would take the “Derry” out of the process, noting that at the end, the Council reviews the resumes of the finalists and makes a decision. “That’s our job,” Katsakiores said.
She opined that Osborne “almost sounds like you’re looking for someone from town,” to which Osborne replied, “I don’t have anyone from town in mind. But if we’re going to go through resumes, do interviews, $15,000 is too much to spend for an outside firm.”
Councilor Brad Benson reminded the group that a search firm has contact with good people who aren’t actively looking to make a change. “Last time we had a really good candidate pool,” he said. “If we do it ourselves, that’s limiting.”
Katsakiores said she didn’t “feel qualified” to do an executive search, to which Osborne said, “There are seven of us. I’m sure we could do it.”
Benson referred to the last search, with the firm Municipal Resources Incorporated (MRI). A company representative met with the then-Council and helped it put together a profile of what they wanted, he said. “To try to do it ourselves, that’s not practical,” Benson said.
Benson further said that “The $15,000 would have no impact on taxes.” When a woman in the audience shouted, “On me it does,” he said, “It would be nice if the audience would not talk.”
“I think it was money well spent,” Wetherbee said.
Budreau told the Council that the discussion was premature. “The conversation on how to find someone,” he said, “is further down the list.” Budreau, an experienced human resources professional, said, “My best advice is that you really need to know what the goals and needs of the organization are. If you don’t do some ‘pre-work,’ you’re likely to have a dialogue that extends at great length.”
Budreau further warned, “In my experience, these conversations inevitably become a ‘compare-and-contrast.’ There will be times you will want to go into nonpublic.” He also warned them not to malign past administrators as they look to the future.
But the presumption, Osborne said, is that most of the discussion should be in public. “There is a perception,” he said, “that we do things behind closed doors.”
Benson suggested having Budreau find a facilitator to lead the discussion of what they want. “This is a divided Council,” he said, “and having a neutral party will help.”
The Council agreed by consensus to have Budreau hire a facilitator, to help them arrive at their organizational goals.