Search for New Falmouth Town Manager Gets Back on Track
By: Christopher Kazarian
The search for a new town manager will proceed with a new consultant, Mark C. Morse of Brookline-based MMA Consulting Group, and a new process that utilizes all five selectmen and four members of the current town manager screening committee to assist in vetting candidates.
Selectmen opted for the new approach after the initial consultant, Thomas J. Groux of Chatham, resigned after three meetings with the original nine-member screening committee.
The committee and Mr. Groux had come on board in March, as Falmouth looked to find a replacement for former town manager Robert L. Whritenour Jr., who stepped down in November.
But the relationship between the committee and Mr. Groux quickly soured as there were disagreements over the process, leading to his cutting ties with the town two weeks ago.
Following the resignation of former town manager Bob Whritenour in November, the search for a replacement is off to a rocky start.
The fallout extended to the committee’s chairman, Barbara P. Schneider, who resigned at the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, complaining of “a process that was flawed from the first meeting of the committee,” and upset about the attacks not only on Mr. Groux, but herself.
A history with Falmouth
It was an inauspicious start to what selectmen are terming the most important task currently before them, that of hiring a new town manager.
Last night the board was quick to select a replacement for Mr. Groux, looking to tap into Mr. Morse’s experience to assist the town in finding a new leader.
Mr. Morse spoke about that experience, which started in 1985. He has been conducting searches for town managers, town administrators and other high-level department heads since that time.
He has worked with Falmouth before, having helped the town in the hiring of Police Chief Anthony J. Riello in 2007.
During that search, the town utilized a committee of eight members and three ex officio ones. Mr. Morse warned against utilizing a similarly sized committee this time, noting a committee that size can be challenging and cumbersome.
The screening process
As far as the process, Mr. Morse said he will need to know a little about the town, hoping to interview each selectman to hear their thoughts. “I have to get a sense of the town and the issues,” he said.
The second step, he said, is to begin screening resumes. While Falmouth has already received more than 60, he said it would be good for him to conduct outreach and tap into his contacts to find additional candidates who may fit what the town is looking for and needs.
Additional work may consist of his calling applicants suited for the job to gauge their interest level and to determine whether they should be brought in for an interview.
“You have the ability to second-guess everything we do because you will have to work with the person,” Mr. Morse said.
The selectmen briefly talked about whether they wanted to hire a new consultant, a decision that was unanimous.
Selectman Melissa C. Freitag asked him about his current work, which includes assisting another town in finding a town manager. She wondered if that town was on the Cape and how he would work with two separate communities at the same time.
Mr. Morse said he anticipated signing a contract with an off-Cape town today. He said he would not shop candidates, stressing that it is wrong to do so.
“It is a bad practice,” he said, adding, “We don’t maintain a record of resumes on file. We really work for the town... If there is a conflict, we would tell the committee right away.”
No 'leg to stand on'
Shortly thereafter the board chose to hire Mr. Morse, with Ms. Freitag pointing out that the selectmen had no other choice.
“I don’t think we have a leg to stand on here,” she said.
The decision whether to remain with the current screening committee or choose a different path was much more strained.
Initially, Selectmen Ahmed A. Mustafa and David Braga were in favor of sticking with that group.
“I strongly suggest the committee be allowed to do its job,” Mr. Mustafa said. “I believe they all know what they have to do.”
“I think they are all very well qualified and took time to apply to the committee and we took time to interview them,” Mr. Braga said.
Restructuring the search committee
While some were in favor of disbanding the screening committee, Mr. Braga defended them, again stressing they are capable of handling the work and said Falmouth would be “taking 10 steps back,” if it started anew.
But Ms. Freitag and Mary (Pat) Flynn were concerned with how the screening committee had conducted itself so far. Ms. Freitag proposed waiting until after the election, when there will be at least one new selectman and possibly two. At that
point she was in favor of creating a new committee, consisting of selectmen as well as current members of the screening committee.
“The overriding issue is this is our job,” Ms. Flynn said. “This is our most important job and our most important appointment.”
By giving some of that power to the screening committee, Ms. Flynn said, there was an inherent trust selectmen had in the nine residents it had appointed. Unfortunately, she said, that group did not act cooperatively, but competitively.
“It was a major misstep to get into a conflict with the consultant,” Ms. Flynn said. “I don’t feel like we can afford another misstep.”
She promoted at least one other option—selectmen acting as the screening committee—that could allay her fears. At the same time, she said, the public could still be involved during the final round of interviews, asking candidates questions then.
Mr. Mustafa said Ms. Flynn’s comments were disrespectful. “We’re now insulting the integrity of the people we put into place,” Mr. Mustafa said. “I don’t feel like it is the right way of doing it.”
“I have never questioned the veracity of any members of the committee,” Ms. Flynn responded. “It is about being able to work together and respect the process.... When you have a misstep like that, I think it is a big deal.”
“Point of order,” Mr. Mustafa interrupted. “It is time to vote.”
While Chairman of the Falmouth Board of Selectmen Brent V.W. Putnam allowed Ms. Flynn to continue, she said, “I think I said what I needed to say. I’m not questioning their integrity.”
Shortly thereafter selectmen reached their first stalemate with Mr. Mustafa and Mr. Braga in favor of continuing with the screening committee. Mr. Putnam, Ms. Freitag and Ms. Flynn opposed the motion.
That is when Mr. Putnam proposed his entire board join the current screening committee, bringing a total of 12 members to that committee. In addition to Dr. Schneider, current screening committee member Paul D. Brodeur has said he would step down, because he works for MMA Consulting.
While Mr. Putnam said this would give selectmen more control of the process, Ms. Flynn said the size of the committee was too large.
Again Ms. Freitag suggested they delay their decision for two weeks, a notion that Mr. Putnam was not in favor of.
“The people’s business needs to be done. Any sort of delay is unfair to the public and town employees who expect to see a new town manager,” he said.
Ultimately, his motion failed, too, with only him and Ms. Flynn in favor and the remaining three board members opposed.
At that point several current screening committee members weighed in on the discussion, starting with Nicholas S. Lowell, who was in favor of disbanding the committee and giving selectmen ultimate control of the process.
Committee member Gary W. Anderson agreed, stressing the urgency of the decision. “If we embed another step into this, whether we appoint a new committee, we will lengthen the process,” he said. He was against doing so when there are vital issues, such as wastewater, waste management and town finances to be solved and key positions in local government to be filled.
Others cautioned selectmen against replacing the committee, with Matthew J. McNamara and Maureen Fessenden arguing that the current members have expertise and skills to add to the screening process.
Ms. Fessenden said the past characterizations made by the local media have been unfair. “I think the whole concept of the committee not getting along got blown out of proportion,” she said.
As the discussion continued, Mr. Putnam asked for his board to find some common ground. That turned out to be a suggestion made by Ms. Freitag to have all five selectmen and four members of the current screening committee, yet to be chosen, forming a new screening committee.
Only Mr. Mustafa was against it, shaking his head and saying, “You are not going to get me to sit on that screening committee for two weeks,” he said, referencing the fact he is not running for reelection, and will end his three terms on the board.
Following the vote, Mr. Putnam asked that the role of Mr. Morse and the screening committee be clearly established prior to his board’s next meeting in two weeks.
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