A dropped zero can make a world of difference. That new sweater, a bargain at $20, is out of reach at $200. A $2 million school bond is undoubtedly much more likely to earn voter approval than one for $20 million.
Last week, a reporter dropped a zero on these pages and the cost of hiring a recruiting firm in the search for a new town administrator plummeted from the correct $15,000 to a relatively paltry $1,500.
We suggested the Derry Town Council would, indeed, be pound wise and penny foolish not to make that investment as they begin looking for John Anderson’s replacement.
That zero meant a lot in that case, but not enough to persuade us otherwise.
All municipalities need to watch their pennies these days, Derry in particular.
But there are times, and this is one, when even $15,000 would be money well spent.
When Anderson’s contract was not renewed last month, he was earning about $125,000. That’s a lot of money, but not out of line for administrators in towns of similar size. Presumably, his successor will earn about the same.
A town administrator is an important job in Derry, particularly given the need for fiscal restraint and the demands of working with a seriously fractured Town Council.
The council is divided over the need for outside help. It shouldn’t be.
Yes, town councilors are elected to run the town, but their expertise in all fields should not be assumed, nor expected.
Town administrator searches are likely to attract dozens and dozens of candidates. In Derry’s case, the search that ended with Anderson’s hiring drew 121 applicants. That’s a lot of resumes to sort through and a recruiting company is much better equipped to do that than the part-time council.
Derry has used a recruiting firm when hiring its last four administrators. Some say the brevity of the administrators’ tenure suggests they haven’t done a very good job. That’s not necessarily true.
Town administrators and managers are often on the move, staying in one town for a few years before moving on. Derry’s no different in that sense.
But Derry is different today in that it needs strong leadership from the top down. Whether hiring Anderson was a mistake, one the recruiting company led councilors into, is not a debate worth having at this point. It’s time for Derry to move forward.
The Town Council doesn’t agree on much these days and the idea of members poring over an unwieldy stack of resumes and reaching consensus on a half dozen or more candidates worth interviewing seems unlikely.
Narrowing the field will take time and expertise best left to a company in the business. Again, $15,000 isn’t pocket change, but this is a search for a leader of a town with a $37 million budget. It would be money well spent.
Councilors would be well advised to seek out more than one such firm. Perhaps the error hasn’t been in hiring outside help, but rather in which company was hired to do the search. It’s certainly worth exploring the options.
Acting Town Manager Larry Budreau urged the Town Council to first focus on what it is members want in the town’s next administrator before worrying about who will handle the search.
That’s good advice for this council. Members did manage to agree to bring in a facilitator to help them focus as they begin their search.
If they can agree they need help setting goals and defining the qualifications they are seeking in the next town administrator, then they also ought to see that getting some professional help in that search also makes sense.