Council to Hire MRI for Administrator Search

A former police chief and town administrator will help Derry chart the course toward hiring its next chief of staff.

Alan Gould, president and chief executive officer of Municipal Resources Incorporated (MRI), spoke to the Derry Town Council in a special meeting Monday night, Dec. 28, to describe the services his firm can provide. After his presentation and questions, the Council agreed by consensus to have Interim Town Administrator Susan Hickey sign a contract with MRI.

Prior to the meeting, Hickey had sent out Requests For Proposals (RFP) to companies interested in helping Derry with its executive search. A subcommittee made up of Councilors Albert Dimmock, David Fischer and Richard Tripp had been charged with reviewing the proposals.

Monday night, Tripp said five companies responded: The Mercer Group Inc. of Atlanta, Ga.; The Novak Consulting Group of Cincinnati, Ohio; Randy Frank Consulting LLC of Wallingford, Conn.; Waters & Company of Kansas City, Mo.; and MRI of Meredith.

Tripp said the subcommittee ranked proposals on company experience, the process used in finding the candidates, estimate of time required to perform services, itemized estimate of costs, and proximity to Derry.

Tripp said the proposals showed little difference among the firms for the first two criteria. All except one of the responding firms was able to provide the services within the required time frame, he said. The difference then came down to two factors, cost and location. Gould’s estimated cost of $14,000 was acceptable, and his Meredith location put him in the state and accessible, according to Tripp.

“We chose to recommend MRI to the full Council,” Tripp said.

Upon a request from Fischer, Gould gave an overview of his and his firm’s experience. The firm has been in business 25 years, working primarily with New England towns and cities but also providing services in New Jersey and Connecticut, he said. He has been vice president of the firm and was recently appointed president. His own experience includes running police departments and small towns.

Gould pointed to the track record of the company, saying, “People hire us over and over again. They hire us for a police chief, then they need a town administrator, then they hire us for a fire chief.”

His process includes the following steps:

• Placing an ad in newspapers and professional organization Web sites, with a deadline of 30 days.

His ads usually produce 40 to 50 candidates, from 15 to 20 states, Gould said, adding that the bulk of these are from New England.

• Gould and his team then have a short interview by phone in which they quiz each Councilor on the challenges of the position. “We then develop a profile of our ideal candidate,” he said.

• The team develops ideas for “essay questions” for the semi-finalists.

• Between 15 and 18 “top tier” candidates are semi-finalists, Gould said, and they are asked to respond to five essay questions. These are scored and a phone interview follows, again by two MRI staffers, he said.

• A panel of at least three MRI staffers holds on-site interviews with the semi-finalists, Gould said. Councilors may add to the panel if they wish.

• Between two and four of the top candidates are then recommended to the Council, Gould said. The Council makes a decision and then passes the ball back to Gould, who will make the offer of employment and negotiate the terms.

Questions and answers

Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores asked Gould what his estimated cost was, and he said $14,000. She also asked how long the process would be.

“It is typically 90 days,” Gould responded.

Gould recommended that the final decision be made by the new Council elected in March, and he suggested final interviews in the first or second week of April.

“That puts us right in the middle of the budget process,” Council Chair Tom Cardon observed.

But Fischer said the new Council needs time to get settled. “The election is the settled. “The election is the second Tuesday of March,” he said. “It is not possible to turn it around in a week.”

Gould said the ideal candidate would be skilled in finance and able to help with the budget process.

With the 90-day process, the appointment would be made by May 1, Gould added.

Hickey asked if the process could be accelerated, and Gould said, “it would be tough.” For example, he said, many of his candidates are already working, and he gives them up to 10 days to respond to the essay questions. “And it takes us a week to read them,” he added.

The Council discussed a salary range with Gould, who noted that this is a “competitive market” for experienced municipal administrators, with many aging out of the process and retiring. While some talented new people are joining the profession, there’s a gap between seasoned administrators and the new talent, with few candidates in the middle range.

Gould warned, “This close to the Massachusetts border, you need to make the salary attractive. The ballpark is $140,000.”

Also, Gould said, he’s been following Derry’s ups and downs and observed, “It can be a challenging environment here.”

Councilors agreed to list the position as “up to $140,000, commensurate with experience.” That way, Gould said, they can attract experienced managers without ruling out younger people with potential.

Cardon asked, “Do some managers just go from town to town?”

“We have a term for that and it’s not polite,” Gould responded. But in people he’s placed over the past seven years, only one or two have moved on. It’s an issue in smaller communities, where staff members use them as stepping-stones.

“I’d be more worried if you were smaller,” he said.

And though he will cast as wide a net as the Council wants, Gould observed that he already has a “pool” of candidates from other placements. “Only one person can be the ‘perfect’ person for a town,” he said. “But of the ones who weren’t, someone might be the perfect one for Derry.”

He has “a couple hundred” people in his database, he said in answer to a question by Councilor Joshua Bourdon.

While a formal vote was not taken, Cardon polled the board informally and all said they wanted MRI to take the job. Bourdon, who is a staffing professional, said, “I like it that he’s in the area and I also like his ability to network.”

“Being from New Hampshire is important to us,” Cardon agreed.

Because the amount being spent on MRI was under $20,000, the Council did not need a formal vote, and authorized Hickey to sign the contract.

Dimmock and Tripp recommended that Fischer be the prime contact for Gould until the finalists are named. It will be more streamlined that way, Dimmock said.

Gould agreed, saying, “It will also help us to avoid 91-A (Right to Know) issues.”