GARDINER — After weighing its own schedule and priorities in the next several months, the Gardiner City Council opted to push ahead with its city manager search Wednesday by choosing a search firm.

After a brief debate at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, elected officials voted 6-0 to hire the Eaton Peabody Consulting Group to undertake the search for Gardiner’s next top administrator, forgoing conducting interviews with the three organizations that responded.

Eaton Peabody was one of three organizations to respond to the city’s request for proposals for search services. The Maine Municipal Association and Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, a law firm, also responded.

In reviewing the three proposals, city councilors evaluated cost, the approach each organization outlined and timelines as well as the timing of search.

“I think it’s potentially valuable to bring folks in and have a conversation,” District 3 City Councilor Colin Frey said. “A lot of this process is going to be about that working relationship so there could be a lot of value in that.”

In the next month, city councilors are focusing on budget deliberations as they set spending priorities for the next fiscal year that starts on July 1. And typically, the schedule of City Council meetings is lighter in the summer in deference to vacation plans.

“The big constraint is our schedule; we’re pretty tied up,” Frey said. “If we want to bring all three in to have a conversation and pseudo interview, that could add considerable more time to the process.”

The vacancy for the city’s top administrator was created earlier this year by the resignation of Christine Landes, who was in the third year of her three-year contract with the city. She was hired after a 17-month search, conducted with the help of David Barrett, director of personnel services and labor relations for the Maine Municipal Association. She has since been hired as the town manager for New Gloucester.

City officials have said they don’t want this process to take that long.

“With the timeline you’ve laid out for us, we’re talking with our schedule, June is gone, July is gone,” At-large City Councilor Tim Cusick said. “It will be almost September before we would be able to corral everybody together (for interviews). I’m not sure what we’ll gain by meeting one person from each company. This is going to be a long process and we should get moving on it now.”

“I just want to remind council to not feel pressure,” Anne Davis, acting city manager, said. “I will continue (as) acting city manager so you can hire this person smartly and the position smartly. I have never found that acting in a rush has been helpful for anything.”

Davis is also the director of the Gardiner Public Library. While she plans to retire from that position this year, she said she’ll stay on as acting city manager as long as she’s needed. She has served as interim city manager both before Landes was hired, and during the 10-month search for Scott Morelli, who resigned in 2017 to accept the position of city manager in South Portland.

Under Eaton Peabody’s proposal, Don Gerrish will lead the recruitment process, which includes developing a search strategy, outlining the essential skills and experiences required, setting the search timeline, advertising for the position, reviewing resumes, and developing a list of candidates for review. The process also includes scheduling interviews, conducting background checks and if requested, helping to negotiate a contract.

Under the proposed schedule, the first round of candidate interviews could take place in mid-July with a city manager named by mid-August.

Mayor Patricia Hart noted that Gerrish conducted the search that resulted in Morelli being hired in South Portland.

For these services, the city is expected to pay $6,000 plus expenses like advertising, mileage and printing.

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