By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — The town may have a new administrator soon.
The Town Council narrowed a field of 76 applicants down to two and invited them to visit Derry.
Richard Brown, currently the town manager of Freetown, Mass., and Stephen Eldridge of Lisbon, Maine, came to Derry June 19 to field questions from residents during a public forum.
Before that, the two men met with department heads and other town employees.
About 20 people attended the open forum and asked the two how they would handle the budget, the downtown and economic development.
Earlier in the day, the two men toured the town.
The town has been without a permanent administrator since John Anderson left the post some 11 months ago — after he was charged with indecent exposure and lewdness.
“We had a lot of diverse candidates,” Town Council Chairman Mark Osborne said at the forum. “And I promised the town this would be as open a process as it could be.”
Brown’s contract in Freetown ends this month. He said he was attracted to Derry for its good financial standing and strong community spirit. He said he would bring more than 35 years of municipal management experience to town.
Eldridge most recently served as town manager in Lisbon, but his contract wasn’t renewed earlier this year.
Both men said they thought Derry would be a good fit for them.
“This is all I ever wanted to do,” Brown said. “I’m not here to build monuments, not here to stroke my ego, I’m here to provide service in a nutshell.”
“I think this community offers some great challenges,” he said. “It would be a nice place to be. I think I’m up for that.”
Residents’ questions included how the finalists would handle unions, the budget, the tax cap, the downtown and the Town Council.
Brian Chirichiello served on the Derry Town Council for nine years and is a state representative. He asked several questions and said he was most impressed with Brown’s qualifications.
“He did impress me with some of his answers and I like the fact that he could navigate through the political process and get the job done,” he said.
Chirichiello went through an administrator search process three times while serving on the Town Council.
This time, councilors decided to do the search themselves, rather than hire an outside firm.
Chirichiello said he may have expected more from a field of 76 if a professional hiring company had been used.
“In all fairness, I really didn’t get to see how the Council went through the process and how they did a thorough background check in such a quick timeframe,” he said.
Resident Walter Deyo also asked several questions, including asking Brown why he wanted to leave his current job.
Brown said he was ready for a change.
“Freetown and I are not a good fit,” he said.
That town is governed by a small board of selectmen.
“That provides a fair level of frustration for someone like me used to managing resources,” Brown said.
He said he isn’t afraid to make tough calls.
“I will never sell the community out for the sake of myself,” Brown said.
Resident John Burtis said the town is tired of administrator problems and wants to get it right this time.
“We’re weary of administrators not setting the proper example,” he said. “An administrator has to lead by example, keep his word and stick to his contract.”
Burtis said he was impressed with Brown’s qualifications. He also appreciated the way councilors handled the search process.
“I applaud the way Town Council has gone about this,” he said.
Eldridge said it’s all about communicating with the Town Council, town staff and residents. If chosen, he said, he would emphasize openness with the public.
That includes dealing with union contracts and the employees in those unions.
“I’ve always had good relationships with unions,” Edridge said. “I’m not afraid to tell the unions we don’t have the money. I would do the best for my employees as I possibly can, but it has to be within reason and what we can afford. It’s a juggling act.”
Residents were able to write down comments following the forum or send comments or questions to councilors via the town website. The public is also invited to send comments or questions to Town Council through the town’s website.
On Monday, Osborne said he and fellow councilors received good reports on the search process.
“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback,” he said.
Osborne said the Town Council’s original goal was to name a new administrator by July 1, but the group would take more time if needed.
The group was scheduled to hold another nonpublic meeting this week.