NARRAGANSETT – The Narragansett Town Council headed into executive session after its first public discussion on the search for a new town manager - an exchange that lasted only 15 minutes. At a council workshop session on Friday morning, councilors discussed what they were looking for in a new manager and the hiring process for the position, including job postings and potential interviews. Councilor Patrick Murray was absent from the meeting.
Narragansett Director of Human Resources Susan Healy, who has assisted the council in its appointment of the town’s previous two managers, began the meeting by stating the choice was up to the council whether to expand the search nationwide or focus efforts at the regional and local level.
The need for a new manager arose in January when former town head James Manni exited the position to take on the role of Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police. Since, Narragansett Chief of Police Sean Corrigan has served as town manager in an interim capacity. However, at a council meeting last month, Corrigan announced his intent to return to the position of police chief and not seek the manager position in the long term.
“When we hired Jim, we had 42 resumes come in,” noted Healy at the workshop Friday, referencing the hiring process for Manni which occurred through the spring and summer of 2015. “There were a lot of applications from Massachusetts and the Rhode Island area. We whittled that number down to nine and ends dup interviewing nine people.”
As with past manager searches, the council and the town will likely undergo two rounds of interviews with candidates. Then, an offer process occurs in which Healy works with the town to craft a contract for the new manager.
“It’s a five-month minimum process,” said Healy.
Town Council president Matthew Mannix asked Corrigan if he would be willing to stay on after a potential candidate was hired to assist in the transition into the manager role. Corrigan said he would be willing after Mannix suggested a month-long transition period.
“We can hire them on a council meeting date,” said Mannix, “but we have to have a start date for the person. We can have a transition period so they can learn the ropes, go to a [council] meeting and go to a town senior management meeting.”
Councilor Jesse Pugh inquired how the previous process worked for narrowing the field of 42 applicants down to just nine candidates. Healy said in prior manager hirings, council members brought in a list of their top 10 picks from the larger applicant pool.
“We looked to see if councilors had picked some of the same people,” said Healy. “If the same name shows dup on multiple councilor’s top picks, we wrote that name down on a whiteboard. There were some extras as well, people who knew the person or was familiar with their work and thought they would be a good candidate for the job. Basically, it was a consensus of the council.”
“So, it was kind of a matching system,” said Pugh. “But are you also saying that if one councilor had a favorite, that person could advance just because one councilor wanted them [in the running for the position]?”
Healy confirmed this had been the case in the past two hiring processes for manager, but said the council could proceed any way they chose to. In Narragansett, the town manager, who oversees the daily operations of the town and presides over town departments, is appointed by the town council.
“It’s similar to what we just did with the town solicitor,” said council president pro tem Jill Lawler, referencing the town’s recent hiring of solicitor Mark Davis. Mannix noted the solicitor position was less of a hiring process due to Davis being the runner-up in a previous search to fill the role.
As the town’s director of Human Resources, it is Healy’s responsibility to advertise the position, and going out to a nationwide search can be time consuming, sometimes without having the results to show for it, according to the director.
“Having done this a couple times before, I’m wondering if, in the beginning, should we post it locally more,” inquired Healy of the council. “We get a lot of candidates - I’m not joking when I say we got three from Alaska last time, which is fine, I’m sure they were wonderful people, but let’s think about this logically. Bringing someone here from Alaska is not only a difficult travel issue, but it’s probably not going to be a good fit. The people that are local, particularly in my experience, are a better fit for this type of community. Maybe initially, we post it just locally and regionally, and if the applications are just trickling in, then we can expand. But it’s very difficult to pull someone from Ohio or anywhere else in this country, other than New England, and have them be a good fit for this town.”
Mannix said the council should not discuss specific candidates outside of a council executive session, though some candidates had emerged already, and sought to only share the process with the rest of council members before getting consensus on whether or not to expand the search nationwide. Pugh said he did not want to discuss candidates, even in executive session, yet without first advertising the position. After about 15 minutes, Mannix closed the workshop and the council retired to executive session to discuss the manager role. On Wednesday, another executive session was held with council members to discuss the topic.
In Narragansett, the town manager must live in Narragansett, though similar local requirements have been challenged in court.