The selectboard and trustees have selected a recruitment firm in the latest step toward finding a new municipal manager.
The two boards interviewed three finalists during a joint meeting last Thursday before choosing Municipal Resources, Inc., a New-Hampshire based firm that works mainly in New England and has experience in over 500 cities and towns.
Don Jutton, the company’s founder, touted his firm’s 75 percent placement record for town managers that have stayed more than five years, which he called an “average life expectancy.” He said the key to a successful placement is learning about the community and custom-fitting the search.
“Towns and cities have personalities just like people do,” Jutton said. “We see our role as that of a matchmaker, and in order to make the match work, we need to understand you. We need to understand the issues and the challenges.”
Municipal Resources will conduct a four-month long process that begins by reaching out to former applicants that may fit Essex’s ideal profile while also advertising the position nationally.
Jutton will then sit on a panel of ex-managers to screen candidates before starting the public engagement process, which includes a focus group and community survey. He emphasized the need to reach a cross-section of people, especially those who are traditionally critical of local government.
The firm then sends a half-dozen essay questions to top candidates, ranks the pool and conducts telephone interviews before bringing in six finalists for in-person interviews.
At that time, a public information scan and criminal background check is performed, Jutton said. Three separate panels of residents, employees and professionals then interviews candidates before narrowing the top three for the boards’ consideration.
The boards will vet the finalists before issuing a conditional offer, at which time the firm conducts another in-depth background investigation that incorporates a requirement to share any non-disclosure agreements.
Jutton said the boards can request information at any point in the process, but stressed the process should remain confidential until a candidate accepts the position.
He urged the boards to allow his firm to lead the negotiations once this phase is reached and said he will offer a constant guiding principle throughout the process: “Give me a number that you’re willing to watch the perfect candidate walk away from you at.”
During the 50-minute interview, Jutton explained his firm’s philosophy on finding the right fit.
“Nobody gets fired because of their education or their experience. They get fired because of their attitude,” Jutton said. “We place a lot of focus on making sure that we understand what attitude plays in the character in your community.”
That will require an understanding of the complex relationship between Essex and Essex Jct.
Jutton does have some experience in consolidation, though a plan he helped create between two towns in Maine ultimately failed because the communities didn’t understand the difficulty of one person managing two entirely separate entities, he said.
The boards were expected to sign a contract with Municipal Resources this week.
In its application, the firm estimated a lump sum cost of $15,000 for the search, about half what the town and village budgeted for in fiscal year 2018, though that doesn’t include the cost of advertising, accommodating on-site interviews, reimbursing candidates for travel expenses and lodging the interview team.
The firm guarantees placements that last at least a year and will perform another search free of charge if it fails, though Jutton said that’s only happened twice: Once after an alcoholic selectman took the candidate to dinner and listed the employees he wanted fired and again after a selectboard member told the press the candidate wouldn’t succeed.
Jutton said the boards will be briefed on proper behavior during the search process. He warned they may not find the perfect candidate during the first pass-through, blaming an increasingly shallow pool resulting in more competition.
Some local characteristics may affect the potential recruiting pool, he added, like notoriously high state taxes and an expensive housing market.
In a phone interview Monday, village president George Tyler said Jutton understands challenges specific to northern New England, and his firm has a good track record, giving Jutton a slight advantage.
Tyler said a majority from both the selectboard and trustees will need to approve the final candidate. At that point, the boards will offer a three-year contract, he said, with the understanding the ideal candidate will have prior managerial experience and likely be leaving a current manager position.
Jutton, a former town manager himself, said he ensures candidates understand the position. The firm coordinates school visits, helps spouses link with potential employers and encourages the citizen panel to help families feel welcome.
“For you, it’s a decision which may cost you an election,” he said. “For them, it’s their lives.”