Selectmen Will Ask New Consultant To Help With Town Manager Search
By: Christopher Kazarian
A cloud of turmoil and uncertainty continues to hang over the Falmouth Town Manager Screening Committee as Barbara P. Schneider, its chairman, resigned last night after her integrity was called into question by her fellow board members last week.
The move comes just days after consultant Thomas J. Groux of Chatham did the same, having failed to find a common ground with the screening committee on issues of confidentiality, authority and process.
“I hope Mr. Groux will find a way to forgive the Town of Falmouth,” Dr. Schneider said. “He didn’t deserve the attacks. Nor did I.”
Selectmen are now placing their hopes in a consulting firm, MMA Consulting Group of Brookline, which they initially passed over last month when they selected Groux and Associates to help them in the search for a new town manager. Selectmen agreed to ask MMA’s president, Mark Morse, to appear before them at some point in the next week to see if he would be interested in serving as a consultant and if he would like to work with the current screening committee, the selectmen or by himself.
If Mr. Morse does accept the town’s offer and elects to work with the screening committee, he will not only be without Dr. Schneider’s assistance, but that of former fire chief Paul D. Brodeur as well. Mr. Brodeur offered to step down because he currently works with the MMA Consulting Group as a member of the Falmouth Retirement Board and he was concerned it may represent a conflict of interest. In making the offer, Mr. Brodeur suggested selectmen should keep the steering committee, calling it a good one.
Whether that will happen is unclear.
After hearing Dr. Schneider’s comments, which kicked off the discussion, Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn said she attended all three meetings of the screening committee since the board was formed in March. She agreed that both Dr. Schneider’s integrity was impugned as was Mr. Groux’s.
As to why this happened, she suggested that the screening committee was unclear about its role in the search for a new town manager. She reminded the board that it was formed to define the values of the community, review resumes of applicants and interview candidates while keeping those community values in mind and recommend a list of finalists to selectmen.
She also pointed to the fact that the committee was probably working competitively as opposed to cooperatively, leading to the rancor it exhibited last Tuesday. “I’m really appalled at the way some members of the screening committee attacked him [Mr. Groux],” she said.
She said it was unfortunate the process played out that way, noting that it has obscured what is of primary importance. “I do think the power of appointing a town manager is the most important power we have as a board,” she said.
She stressed the need to move forward, saying the town cannot delay its search for a new town manager.
She laid out three options for selectmen to consider. All of them would rely on a consultant, which she called crucial to the process. The first option would be to hire MMA Consulting Group and rely on that firm to present its choices for six finalists.
The second option would be to have a subcommittee of two selectmen work in conjunction with MMA, something Chairman Brent V.W. Putnam later argued against, saying he felt if his board went this route, it should be with all five members.
Mr. Putnam warned that there is a segment of the population that believes in conspiracies and relying on anything fewer than all five selectmen would arouse suspicions.
The final option Ms. Flynn offered was for MMA to work with a screening committee.
Selectman Melissa C. Freitag said if the board opted to continue with the screening committee, it should make it smaller while being definitive about that committee’s charge.
Instead of hiring a consultant, Selectman Ahmed A. Mustafa suggested a different tack—rely on the committee it has now. “My personal opinion is we have a very talented group of people on the committee and I’m sure they can do the job,” he said, noting that since all are Falmouth residents they have a vested interest in finding the best candidate they can.
This idea received no support, as members of the screening committee—including Gary W. Anderson and Mari Jo F. Flanagan—and others repeatedly said a consultant has expertise that includes the ability to vet resumes and check references that their members do not.
Mr. Anderson argued for a sense of urgency on behalf of selectmen in pushing the process forward. “It is very important we get a town manager in place and we have a leader whom we can rely on,” he said.
Meanwhile Ms. Flanagan downplayed any animosity among screening committee members, saying they were simply trying to understand the roles of the consultant and the committee. She said there were some powers the consultant had, which included the power to recommend his own candidates, her committee did not feel were appropriate.
And screening committee member Matthew J. McNamara said there were decisions his committee made concerning how to seek employee input concerning the town manager that Mr. Groux did not follow, such as interviewing those workers one on one instead of in front of the entire committee.
Despite these problems, Mr. McNamara was in favor of keeping the screening committee, calling the members skilled, talented and well-positioned to continue the work that has already begun.
Selectman David Braga was apologetic to all members of the screening committee, saying that his board had failed them. He called on selectmen to show some leadership and help Falmouth find a new town manager.
Ms. Flynn said the next step has to be to find a consultant, again recommending that Mr. Morse of MMA Consulting be invited to Falmouth and offer his preferred method for conducting the search. The board agreed with this unanimously, with the goal of having that meeting next Monday although it could be sooner, depending on Mr. Morse’s availability.