Houlton council seeks ‘person who can manage people’ as next town manager

3 weeks ago

HOULTON, Maine – The Houlton town council changed its approach in the search for a town manager when councilors realized there were a lot of those positions open in the state.

“There are all these openings and everybody is looking for someone with municipal experience,” town councilor Jane Torres said. “We just changed track and said let’s look for that person who can manage people, manage a budget and learn on their feet.”

The council is currently seeking a person with either public or private sector managerial experience with management experience and strong budget and financial management skills, experience in personnel management and labor relations, knowledge of grant preparation and administration, and experience in economic development issues.

Town manager turnover has been an Aroostook-wide issue in recent years. The towns of Reed Plantation, Patten, Fort Fairfield have recently hired new town managers. And Presque Isle just hired a new city manager. 

Patten spent almost four years without a permanent manager at the helm. Limestone went through 11 town managers in seven years. In June, Limestone hired Alvin Lam, a former real estate manager, who said he would donate his entire $80,000 salary back to the town. 

Nonetheless, Lam vacated the position in August to take on the job of director of special projects and a Select Board member was appointed interim town manager.

Houlton’s previous town manager, Marian Anderson, who was Houlton’s town manager for five years, retired at the end of August for family reasons. but she remained available to the town for assistance until Nov. 1. 

The following week, the town council named Police Chief Tim DeLuca interim town manager until a permanent replacement for Anderson is hired. 

According to the town council, DeLuca’s interim status is for six months. In addition to his $89,000 police department salary, he is also being paid an hourly rate of $43.38 for his town manager role, according to Torres. The council calculated the amount from the former town manager’s salary of $90,227, she said.

“My goals are to support our staff and we are all accountable to the citizens and the council,” DeLuca said when he was appointed in November.  “My No. 1 goal is the day-to-day operations, supporting our department heads, our employees and needs of the town.”

Torres said they realize there is a lot on DeLuca with both positions, but the town has strong department heads and they will make it through this. 

“It’s tough, we don’t want to make a mistake. We don’t want to jump into anything,” she said.  

The Maine Municipal Association is working with the town to vet the initial applications. In the first round, there were 25 applications and the council is currently looking at another five potential candidates.

According to Torres, it’s important to find a person who will fit the community. There was one candidate who fit that description.  

“We thought he was the perfect candidate,” she said. “We loved that guy.”

But he ended up taking an offer at a California university, she said.

In addition to managerial expertise, the town is looking for longevity and experience in small towns in cold weather so they understand what they are getting into in Northern Maine.  

Officials are not interested in candidates who have jumped from job to job or who are in a job for two years here, two years there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

“It takes a couple years to get integrated into a community,” Torres said .

During the Monday night town council meeting, council chairman Chris Robinson said the town council  has been working diligently in trying to find a permanent replacement town manager. 

“This has not been an easy task and it is a task we have not completed yet. I have great confidence in the department heads, the employees, the chief, as we move forward,” he said. “We are not going to settle for a person that may come in and upset that proverbial apple cart. We care deeply about the department heads and the town employees and we care about how that all works together.”

This story was updated to include a correction and new information.