Originally published in Castine Patriot, March 13, 2014
Citizens discuss big issues facing Castine, best traits for new town manager
Resident Beverly Bishop speaks of the importance of the waterfront to Castine, Maine at a public meeting on selecting a new town manager on March 5, 2014 “It’s our lifeblood,” she said.
by Anne Berleant
While the crowd was sparse, for the 14 people who attended a March 5 public meeting, the buzzwords were “vision” and “leadership.”
The meeting was called to give the community a forum to discuss the major issues facing the town and what qualities to look for in a new town manager who will have to address these issues.
Current Town Manager Dale Abernethy announced his retirement earlier this year; he steps down on or around July 1, depending on the needs of the town.
The choice of town manager “can shape the town as to which way we go,” said Ann Miller. “Are we gong to survive or not?”
Selectmen hired the legal firm Eaton Peabody of Portland, Brunswick and Bangor to help with the search. Consultant Don Gerrish, a retired municipal manager and interim town manager of Wiscassett, is working directly with selectmen and led the public meeting.
“It’s really an opportunity to have a conversation,” Gerrish said.
According to those present, the major issues facing the town are infrastructure, economic development, the lack of affordable housing and how to attract young families to Castine—in other words, how to create and maintain the “thriving, year-round community” called for in the comprehensive plan’s vision statement.
“My fear is that Castine will become a summer colony,” said Arnold Berleant. “We’ve lost year-round residents progressively over the last 10 or 20 years.”
Economic development should take different forms, depending on who was speaking, from off-neck housing development, to small research start-up companies associated with Maine Maritime Academy, to focusing on the waterfront.
“The right-size businesses, with diversity in age [of residents],” said Brooke Tenney. “Housing that young families could afford to live in.”
“The waterfront,” said Beverly Bishop. “It’s our lifeblood…[but] it’s not business friendly. You can park for an hour and a half, but it takes three hours to kayak.”
While leadership and vision were noted as critical in a new town manager, technical skills, managerial experience and a financial background were additional skills residents asked for.
It was also clear that Abernethy is leaving big shoes to fill, as both citizens and selectmen mentioned his “extraordinary knowledge of state and village law,” “fantastic computer skills” and the fact that “he seldom doesn’t have an answer to a question you ask.”
Selectmen also weighed in with their thoughts. Gerrish had questioned them and town staff earlier in the day, reporting that staff want a “good communicator” and see infrastructure as the town’s biggest issue.
“I’d like to have a town manager that sits back and lets the selectmen make the decisions without getting involved,” said Selectman Gus Basile.
“We’re not hiring a mayor, we’re hiring a town manager,” said Rick Armstrong, “[who] needs to have respect for the select board.”
Jessica Rollerson asked how the positions of selectmen and town manager work in town government.
“It might make younger people more comfortable [to know], who are not so well-versed in the process,” she said.
“The roles and responsibilities of selectmen and town manager [are] dictated by state law,” Gerrish said, and unless a municipality adopts a charter form of government, “the manager works for this [select] board” and has responsibility for town personnel and budgets.
After interviewing about six candidates, selectmen will narrow the field to two or three top candidates.
“At that time, the candidate will be public,” Gerrish said.
Gil Tenney asked for more public involvement. “I question whether your firm knows Castine as well as [its] citizens.” He recommended forming a committee to help with the selection process.
“It’s the selectmen’s job to hire a town manager. We had a meeting to get a feeling of the town,” said Selectman Peter Vogell. “We will do the best we can…We’re listening all the time, days, nights, to the town.”
Public comments may be emailed to Gerrish at Eaton Peabody, whose address, along with the town manager job description, will be posted on the town website, according to selectmen.