AUGUSTA — Being city manager in a capital city takes political skills, and should not be left to the inexperienced, or faint of heart, residents told a consultant hired to help the city find its first new city manager in 23 years.

William Bridgeo announced his retirement as Augusta’s city manager on April 12, and the search is on for his replacement. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Current City Manager William Bridgeo has those skills and that experience, said some of the 15 or so attendees at Thursday’s public input session aimed to inform a search for a new Augusta leader. But Bridgeo is retiring in September.

Multiple residents said since Augusta is Maine’s capital city and a daytime home to numerous state workers and host of many state operations and facilities — many of which are not subject to local property taxes — that nurturing a good relationship with state government is key, if not always easy.

“One thing I always appreciated about Bill (Bridgeo) is he is really a pretty good politician, he is good at making relationships with people,” said state Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, adding that those skills have helped improve the relationship between the city and state government in Augusta.

But he added “there seems to be some animosity between state government and city government that doesn’t need to exist.”

We’re the host of state government and I think, for whatever reason, the state hasn’t valued that partnership,” Pouliot said. “It just hasn’t happened.”

Former state legislator Julie O’Brien agreed and said it helps to have a manager who is connected and active in the community. Her husband, Mark, a former longtime city councilor, said it wasn’t a coincidence the traits he thinks the next city manager should have sound a lot like Bridgeo, who he said did an excellent job in his 23 years in the city.

Mark O’Brien said the departure of Bridgeo, which comes on the heels of the retirement of other longtime city administrators, highlights the need to have a manager who can attract and retain talented city employees. He also said the manager should be someone who is a good listener, who is resourceful and has good communication skills. And experience.

“Running the city of Augusta is a multi-million dollar business so it’s not for the faint of heart and I think you need someone who knows their way around municipal budgets,” Mark O’Brien said. “You wouldn’t want someone with less than five years experience. At the same time you wouldn’t want to see someone who is just going to coast through their last five years.”

Resident Carol Maxwell said the new city manager should have skills and a focus on economic development. She said that needs to be encouraged downtown and elsewhere in the city, especially on Western Avenue which she said seems to be in decline.

“I know there has been a lot of concentration on downtown, and it’s looking great,” Maxwell said. “But driving up Western Avenue, it seems like every time we go we see another empty building. It does not show well for us. So I’d hope that part of looking at economic development would be looking at the whole of Augusta.”

Don Gerrish, who was Brunswick’s town manager for 20 years and now is Eaton Peabody Consulting Group’s consultant leading Augusta’s search for Bridgeo’s replacement, said the goal is to have a new person chosen by mid-October. Depending on the new hire’s personal situation, he said, it could still be another 45 days before they can start in Augusta.

Gerrish said background checks — educational, criminal and financial — would be done on potential candidates, and references will be checked. He said the position would be advertised for about a month, and he will do the initial screening of resumes from applicants. Gerrish will then recommend four to eight people for city councilors to consider, though all resumes will be sent to the elected officials for their review as well.

City councilors will then narrow the candidates to two or three they would interview, Gerrish said, and will make the choice about who to hire.

During his 11 years helping municipalities in their search processes, Gerrish said he has seen the number of candidates dwindle.

“Were not seeing the number of candidates we have in the past, the numbers are down significantly,” Gerrish said. “We’re not seeing the younger managers we have in the past. If we get 20 to 25 applications, I’ll be very happy.

“In Farmington we got 14. But we had four great candidates out of those 14, so it made our process work well,” he added. “If we get four to six good candidates, we’ll be pleased.”

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