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NARRAGANSETT—The Town Council discussed a number of agenda items Monday evening which involve the hiring of a new town manager. Grady Miler, the former town manager, agreed to a separation pact with the Town Council at the June 1 meeting because of criticism leveled by Council members for perceived procedural missteps, namely his decision to unilaterally appropriate $3,000 from the Wastewater Enterprise Fund last year as a donation for the Narrow River Preservation Association (NRPA) to conduct water testing activities.
The Town Council first approved unanimously to vote Narragansett Police Chief Dean Hoxsie as the acting town manager until a permanent candidate is found and authorized. Hoxsie will receive a $750 per week increase in order to bring his pay commensurate to the heightened duties required for the town manager position.
“I have seen nine town managers in 28 years, so this is not a new phenomenon,” said Hoxsie. “I expect that the process [of finding a new town manager] will take about five to six months.”
Although Hoxsie will preside over major policy decisions at NPD and continue to monitor operations, such as police logs, the day-to-day activities of the police chief position will be passed to Deputy Chief Gerald Driscoll. The Town Council also approved unanimously a pay increase of $425 per week for Driscoll.
“I leave [police department operations] in capable hands,” said Hoxsie of Driscoll’s temporary appointment.
Two agenda items which met with considerable discussion between Council members and the public were the formation of a search committee for a new town manager, as well as the approval of an updated job description for the position.
“This is somewhat of a repeat of what we did in 2009,” said Town Solicitor Mark McSally. “The only change is adding the component of an advisory committee to screen candidates. If [the Town Council] has a public advisory group, it needs to approve it and look at appointing a committee in the next Town Council meeting.”
McSally also outlined a procedure and timeline which will be applied by the Town Council during the search for a new town manager within the six month period that is allotted for Hoxsie to serve as acting in the position. The Council must first approve an updated job description, which occurred unanimously Monday evening, send out advertisements in local and national media, develop the search committee, and then conduct the review and interview process for applicants.
McSally detailed the requirements for members of a publicly seated search committee. Each Council member must select one committee candidate and submit it to McSally privately. Those candidates will go through a background check. No two committee members can serve on the same town board or commission, and no family member or relative of any Council, board, or commission member is eligible as well.
According to McSally’s proposal, the search committee will be charged to ‘conduct and interview process of potential town manager applicants and report back to the Town Council with a list of the top…candidates for the Town Council’s review.’
Discussion then moved towards the search for new town manager candidates as Council members debated the reach which the Council is willing to fund in order to find a suitable candidate, as well as the updated job description. Town Council President Glenna Hagopian suggested that, although she agreed with searching for candidates nationally, they should not be compensated for travel if selected as finalists.
“I propose we give no reimbursement on the travel side because we could get pretty upside down on the expense side,” said Hagopian. “I think there are enough people regionally that wouldn’t incur the travel expenses.”
Town Councilman Christopher Wilkens suggested using online media, such as Skype, in order to lessen costs to the town for traveling. The proposal of not reimbursing for travel expenses met with resistance, however, from the public.
“We are talking about approving $1,175 in additional expenses and going into the hiring process for a new town manager, but we are suddenly going to find religion on traveling reimbursements?” said Economic Development Committee member Chris Laccinole. “We limit the town’s position if we do not consider national candidates. I also suggest that we do not move on this until the Town Council’s re-election.”
“I think [the Town Council] is foolish to make policy until it sees the range of candidates,” said Harry Schofield. “It seems to me it shouldn’t be setting policies prematurely that limit the scope of options, so keep them open.”
Debate continued among Council members and the public regarding the updated job description for a new town manager. Councilwoman Susan Cicilline-Buonanno and other audience members supported the inclusion of a provision which demonstrates that the Town Council should have a good working relationship with the town manager, and vice versa, as well as evaluation of that dynamic throughout the candidate’s tenure as town manager.
“One of the most important things is the relationship between the town manager and the Town Council,” said Buonanno. “I think it is really important how those two work together, and the wording [of the job description] has to be pretty strong. It has been a difficult ride the last couple of terms, so I think that this is critical.”
“There has been conversation about transparency, and there is the idea that if we get a town manager, right now [the Town Council] is in the position to dismiss him or her without reason,” said Stephen Glazer, resident and EDC member. “[The public] wants to be apart of the process all the way, but we have no idea about what you decide.”
“I would like to see a town manager have certain roles, and I want to lay that out more strongly,” he added.
Some audience members, however, noted that the relationship between a town manager and the Town Council cannot be dictated through policy, from both a functional and legal perspective.
“A job description is a job description and is two dimensional, so we have to be realistic,” said EDC Chair Dr. Edward Mazze. “Whatever the town manager does must be stated in the Town Charter and the Town Code of Ordinances. That is why we have them.”
“The town manager is also an at-will employee, so at any time, with or without job description, the president could ask for [his or her] resignation, just as in corporate business,” he added. “Trying to mandate the role of relationships between individuals is not the role of the job description.”
The Town Council approved the updated job description unanimously.