WESTERLY — The Town Council agreed by consensus Monday to the first steps it will follow as the search for a new town manager begins. The process will entail seeking proposals to perform a search from executive recruitment firms.
The council agreed by a 5-1 consensus to authorize current Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy to post a solicitation for proposals starting today. The council met in its workshop/Committee of the Whole format, and was therefore prohibited from taking actual votes. Councilors Edward Morrone, William Aiello, Jack Carson, Mario Celico and Jean Gagnier agreed to seek proposals from search firms. Councilor Karen Cioffi opposed the move, saying the town’s Human Resources Department could conduct the search just as effectively. Councilor Philip Overton was not in attendance.
Kennedy announced his resignation on Feb. 26. He is staying on until late April before leaving to become town manager in Mansfield, Conn.
Cioffi, who worked for the town for 12 years, including a stint as its human resources director, said she recently completed a successful search for a town manager in West Warwick where she is now human resources director.
“I did not [use a search firm] and I think I had just as successful a process as I would have with a search firm … it’s not a large pool of people out there for a town manager position. I just don’t see spending the money for that,” Cioffi said.
Cioffi also noted that Municipal Resources Inc., the New Hampshire-based firm hired by the town for the search that resulted in Kennedy’s hiring, struggled to find a pool of candidates.
Gagnier said the use of a search firm insulated the council and the search process from accusations of politics or other improprieties. Additionally, he said the firm’s use of three panels, one each of residents, municipal employees, and municipal and schools senior staff helped create “buy in” to the process and the final hiring decision. The panels assigned scores to the final six candidates selected by the firm and the top three were interviewed by the council, which had previously established criteria for the position.
“It raised the confidence in the town manager position. In other words the people were involved in the process … at the end of the day no one could say there was any politics or favoritism involved,” Gagnier said.
The council also discussed the need to eventually find an interim town manager to serve for the period time following Kennedy’s departure but before a permanent manager is found and hired. Morrone said he had been approached by a few people interested in serving in an interim capacity and said Kennedy was also looking through his own contacts to determine possible candidates for the interim post. Current employees might also be interested in serving as interim town manager, Morrone said.
Celico said he opposed having a current employee serve as interim town manager, saying the approach sets up an awkward situation whereby an employee who worked as interim town manager then must return to their former position and work under the new permanent town manager.
By soliciting proposals from search forms, Kennedy said the council will get a sense for what the cost of hiring a firm would be and can make a final decision on whether to use a firm once requests for proposals are received. Kennedy provided the council with a memorandum outlining a typical executive-recruitment process. He estimated it would take 4 to 6 months beginning with the acceptance of his resignation, which occurred on Feb. 26.
Paula Ruisi, a resident, spoke against spending tax dollars on a search firm and also questioned the propriety of having Kennedy assist with the search for a firm. Additionally, Ruisi asked that interviews of potential town manager candidates be performed in public.