VASSALBORO: 18 residents attend town manager search forum

by Mary Grow

NOTE: Participants in this meeting were promised by the leader that their comments would be shared anonymously. This writer will therefore not identify speakers.

Eighteen Vassalboro residents attended the Oct. 12 forum that was called to collect answers to two questions: what are the “major issues and challenges” facing the town in the next five years; and what “qualities, education, background and experience” should the town manager who succeeds Mary Sabins have.

Cornell Knight, of Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, led the discussion. He explained that he has 40 years’ experience as a manager in half a dozen Maine municipalities, most recently Bar Harbor.

Sabins announced earlier this fall that she is retiring, effective Jan. 2, 2023. Select board members chose Eaton Peabody to help them find her successor.

Knight said ads have been placed in appropriate places locally, state-wide and on New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts sites and the International City Managers Association website.

Vassalboro staff was asked for their answers to the two questions earlier on Oct. 12. Answers, from discussions and from emails received by Oct. 14, will be published on the town website, The information will guide Knight and select board members as they evaluate candidates.

Suggested issues and challenges included:

  • A need for more long-range planning, which could include an updated strategic plan (Vassalboro’s is dated 2006); a new comprehensive plan instead of the strategic plan, if voters are ready to accept one; and/or a capital improvements plan. A related suggestion was a review of Vassalboro’s charter, an action that could lead to a change like replacing the select board with a town council.
  • More, and more advanced, technology, a topic that included expanded and improved broadband access for residents and the capacity to hold virtual public meetings and to stream live meetings.
  • Attention to environmental issues, including water quality in the town’s lakes and recycling and waste management.
  • A need for more law enforcement and for improved rescue and ambulance services.

Moving to the second question, the qualities a town manager should have, there was much emphasis on connections and coordination. The manager should make sure town boards and committees are working well, collaborating when needed and communicating with each other and with town departments. Now that Vassalboro’s school department is independent of regional school organizations, school and town cooperation should become closer.

People also called for a manager with problem-solving skills – creative ones, one speaker specified – and the ability to communicate with staff and townspeople. Communication had to be two-way; the manager should be curious, should “listen first and talk second,” and should not try to dictate.

The manager should be good at finding and applying for grants for state and federal funds, and at long-term capital planning.

He or she should take advantage of continuing education opportunities and should communicate and cooperate with colleagues in other towns.

Knight said the deadline for applications is Nov. 1. He and his colleague, Don Gerrish, will do an initial screening. He expects select board members to do a first round of interviews in November and a second round by early December, and to be ready to sign a contract by Dec. 9.

In reply to a suggestion that town office staff be involved in the decision, Knight said staff members usually have an opportunity to meet candidates chosen for second interviews.

Asked if he thought Vassalboro’s salary and benefits package was competitive, he said yes.

If no satisfactory candidate is found, he said, Vassalboro will operate with an interim manager while a new search and selection process goes ahead.


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