Town Council Settles on ‘Profile’ for Town Administrator

The Derry Town Council has firmed-up the “candidate profile” for its Town Administrator search.

In a workshop meeting Tuesday, March 25, the Council went over a profile compiled by Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau. With a few tweaks, they came to a consensus on what they want to see in the candidates, and ideally the final choice, for the job.

The biggest hurdle was determining how much management experience they want, and how much of that had to be in actual town administration.

The candidate profile consisted of a series of “bullet points” followed by nine full paragraphs describing various aspects of the job.

The Councilors unanimously approved the first bullet point, “Have an unblemished history of integrity and a strong public ethic.”

But their attention snagged on the second point, “Have 15 or more years in progressive management and administrative experience, preferably five to 10 years as a city or town administrator.”

Some members, including newly-elected Councilor At Large Joshua Bourdon, wondered if the experience requirement would shut out younger candidates. “The ideal candidate would have that amount of experience,” Bourdon said. “But I would rather see us have more resumes to look at than less. Could we trim the 15 years back to five?”

David Fischer, the new representative for District 3, wasn’t so sure. He said, “A town the size of Derry does not need someone brand-new in the profession.” He suggested changing “preferably” to “at least” five to 10 years as a city or town administrator.

Former Chairman Michael Fairbanks lobbied for at least 10 years of experience, noting, “We are asking someone to manage a $40 million business.”

“I’m with Josh,” Councilor Al Dimmock said. “I think five years proves they can do it. If we specify 10 to 15, we’ll scare people away.”

Bourdon said, “I’m concerned that if we stick with 15 years of management experience, we’ll be casting a smaller net. We will miss the opportunity to talk to dynamic people with 14 years of experience, or nine, or seven.” He added the caveat that board members could rate resumes by years of experience after they received them.

But, Bourdon pointed out, the Red Sox would not have won in 2004 or 2008 if they had excluded Theo Epstein by an age requirement.

Chairman Mark Osborne agreed. “If we limit ourselves to 15 years or more, we’re cutting out an entire age group,” he said. “We will be shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Budreau reminded them, “Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re recruiting the CEO of a $45 million operation, in the fourth largest community in the state.” For that position, Budreau said, 10 or more years in management with five-plus as a city or town administrator “is not too much to ask.”

Councilor Tom Cardon countered, “What if we meet someone with eight years of experience and we say, ‘Wow, awesome’ should we not consider them?”

Budreau cautioned the board, “We should not put out a description that does not match our expectations.”

Dimmock said he didn’t think the best candidate “needed to have been a Town Administrator at all.”

Fairbanks held out for 10 years, reiterating the magnitude of the task the Administrator would face.

But Bourdon said, “We are talking about the ideal candidate in this document. If they’re exceptional, they’ll blow off the ‘preferably’ and come in anyway.”

Budreau also reminded the Council that the document was for the ideal candidate, and said, “It does not mean you’re insisting on that experience.”

They settled on 10 years minimum for general management experience and five-plus for direct town administration experience.

The Council also had a discussion over the candidate’s educational qualifications. The bullet point stated, “Have at least a bachelor’s degree (master’s degree preferred) in public administration, business management or a related field.

Budreau reminded Councilors that the past three Administrators had master’s degrees in public administration.

Dimmock said, “Just because someone has a degree, it doesn’t mean they know what they are doing. I want to strike that line completely. Albert Einstein was good in his field, but not as intelligent in other things.”

Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores countered, “I respect your opinion, Al, but the person who has this job should have at least a bachelor’s degree.”

Bourdon agreed with Dimmock. “A master’s degree does not necessarily mean they’re the right person,” he said. “I think we should leave this one open-ended. Leave it ‘master’s preferred.’ It’s safe and casts a wider net.”

“If you leave in ‘preferred,’ it’s all right by me,” Dimmock said.

Fairbanks pointed out that leaving it in is a “baseline” for education.

The Council approved the other bullet points, which included:

• Have significant understanding of and experience with community economic development;

• Have significant experience in budgeting and financial management, and in improving organizational efficiency;

• Have strong written, verbal and presentation skills;

• Be creative and entrepreneurial; and

• Have demonstrated skills as a communicator, facilitator and consensus builder.

Fischer had doubts about the wording in one of the paragraphs, where it read that the Administrator should “facilitate a collaborative relationship with the school system” and “be sensitive to the drivers of educational spending.” He wasn’t sure what was meant by “drivers,” and the other members offered varied opinions.

Fairbanks referred Councilors back to the February school deliberative session and the priorities of those attending. “You’re going to have about half the people looking at the cost,” he said. “The other half will say, ‘But what about the kids.’”

Cardon said, “You need to understand that the school budget is pretty high, and the school population has gone down. There are people who advocate changing the way we look at schools.”

The drivers, Cardon said, are “what causes the budget to go up or down.”

Osborne said there were two drivers: people and circumstances. “The circumstances,” he said, “are what kind of people we have who are disproportionate residents to the town.” In Derry’s case, that means that they need to strive for economic development, he said.

Budreau explained that what he meant by “drivers” were the components of a school budget. “You have out-of-district transportation, a special needs student that has to have a one-on-one teacher,” he said. “The School District is dealing with things most of us aren’t aware of.”

“Larry’s explanation is crystal-clear,” Fischer said. “I get it.”

But Dimmock said, “We need to be clear from the get-go what we’re asking. If we have questions, it won’t be clear to a candidate.”

The Council agreed to replace “drivers of educational spending” with “varied components.”

Fischer also said, “I want to be assured that there will be no nepotism. There should be no leaning toward a candidate because they’re our friend, relative or neighbor.”

Cardon and Phyllis Katsakiores agreed, while Bourdon said, “We need to get this right.”

Osborne asked, “Has anything occurred to cause you to say that?”

“No,” Fischer replied, explaining that as a school superintendent, he had been involved in the hiring process in several different towns and communities, and recognized nepotism as a danger.

After the tweaks, the board voted 7-0 to adopt the “ideal candidate profile.” They then discussed the mechanics of the search.