January 29, 2020
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Identifying What Clinton Needs in a Town Manager

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Over the course of three public meetings, a representative from the firm hired to help find Clinton’s first town manager got an earful of feedback from residents about the qualities they value in a chief administrator. What he heard was a desire for someone with proactive communication skills, a vision for economic development, and an ability to navigate the divisive nature of town politics.

“Clinton is a town of 13,000 people and 13,000 different opinions,” Selectmen Carol Walter said at one of the sessions.

Consulting firm Strategic Government Resources (SGR) was hired earlier in the year by the town to assist with the process of recruiting candidates for the town manager. SGR Senior Vice President Douglas Thomas attended three public meetings, where he sought input from residents and fielded questions from those in the audience. Thomas also held separate meetings with key department heads. The meetings occurred over three days from July 9 to 11.

Thomas, who spent 12 years as the town manager in Lakeland, Florida before joining SGR, said that working in Clinton will be the third time he has helped find a first-time town manager for a town, and fourth time assisting with a search in Connecticut.

Asked what comments stood out after all three sessions, Thomas said that two issues were front and center.

“I think clearly municipal finance experience and, without question, economic development,” he said.

Thomas also listed strategic planning and an ability to build consensus as qualities that a town manager should possess when they come to Clinton.

“It’s a fascinating community, people really asked good questions. I’ve not encountered anyone who was opposed to the process,” said Thomas.

A recommendation that the town manager be required to live in town was also discussed. Thomas said that some towns do stipulate that, while others don’t require it but may offer added incentives if a manger chooses to live in the town.

On Nov. 6, 2018, the town voted to change its form of government from the current selectman form of government to a town manager form. With a town manager form of government, there will no longer be a board of selectmen. Instead, a professional, accredited town manager, answerable to a newly formed, seven-member town council, will act as the town’s chief executive, taking on many of the duties handled by the current first selectman. The hiring or firing of the town manager would require at least a 5-2 majority vote by the Town Council.

The Town Council that will hire and supervise the new town manager will be selected in the November 2019 elections.

With the public meetings over, Thomas said that SGR will begin developing a brochure to advertise the position. The brochure will contain facts about Clinton, the issues and challenges a town manager will face, and a list of qualifications, and be delivered to the Board of Selectmen within a few weeks.

“After that, we hit go,” said Thomas-meaning that’s when the nationwide search for candidates kicks off.

Thomas said that once the Town Manager Search Committee whittles down the candidate pool to three to five finalists, those finalists will be invited back to Clinton in the fall for a public meet and greet. The newly seated Town Council will be the body to officially hire the first town manager.

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