SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The search for a new town manager in South Kingstown is picking up steam, but the Town Council likely won’t make its choice until after the new year, at the earliest.
The council has contracted with consultant Municipal Resources Inc. to perform the search for the next manager. Council members met Nov. 3 with Robert Mercier, a municipal management consultant with more than 35 years of experience in the private and public sectors, to discuss the search process.
Mercier has held several managerial and administrative positions, mostly in Massachusetts.
Mercier works frequently with Reginald “Buzz” Stapczynski in searches for municipal town managers and administrators. Stapczynski has 40 years of public sector management experience at the local, county and state levels of government, including 25 years as town manager of Andover, Mass.
The session was a chance for councilors to convey characteristics they would like to see in the next town manager and review the next steps in the recruitment process.
The consultants also met with town department heads on Nov. 4.
“What we do is very informal,” Mercier said. “We talk to them about things they see in South Kingstown, things they’d like to see.”
Mercier and Stapczynski will spend time in town, gathering information and talking to residents and officials about what they’d like to see in a new manager and the town’s priorities.
As far as the timetable for choosing a replacement, Mercier acknowledged the town is coming up on the holidays, a challenging period for making a significant hire.
Typically, the group advertises a position for 30 days.
“During that 30-day period Buzz and I are contacting people we know that we think might be good fits,” Mercier said. The process typically takes 12 to 16 weeks, he said.
The council will be responsible for telling them who else should be consulted, and it varies from community to community.
“In one of our communities, they wanted us to talk to everybody and their brother,” Mercier said. “In another they wanted us to talk to the school superintendent, school committee chairman, planning chairman … that’s your call, not ours. But all of that helps us identify the type of person that all these disparate groups think could work here. We feed that back to you so that you can determine whether that’s important in the final profile or not.”
To spur community engagement, the pair has held public input sessions at various locations in a town.
“COVID’s interesting. It’s getting a little better, communities are opening up more,” Mercier said. He also said he could help the town set up a form on the town’s website for residents to anonymously offer suggestions and their own criteria for a good manager.
Before all that can take place though, one of the first steps in the process would be for the town to publish an advertisement for applications, something the council was trying to get on the agenda for its Monday regular meeting.
“Personally I’d like to see the advertisements approved by us,” Councilman Rory McEntee said. “I’d hate to see something go out that wasn’t cleared by us and is contrary to things in town and just not ideal for us.”
Mercier said that usually, he also likes to include a salary range in the advertisements.
“The worst thing we can do is not have any range and have a person come in and say, ‘Well I expect $220,000 for a community this size.’ That ain’t us,” Mercier said.
As to the timetable, the next few months will involve sending out an ad for applicants, screening and whittling down candidates. Public involvement is not likely to happen in the process until after the holidays, a fact Council President Abel Collins acknowledged.
“We’re thinking early next year we’ll get to that public engagement part,” Collins said.
“After the new year it’ll ramp up,” Mercier responded.
Terry Murphy, town recreation and leisure director, and a town employee for over a decade, became South Kingstown’s interim town manager after Rob Zarnetske exited the position in June.
He was pushed out by a majority of the town council for a variety of reasons, with the recent failure of an $85 million school bond — and Zarnetske’s refusal to increase funding for the school department by more than a million dollars in the most recent budget — as the breaking point.
Town manager for three-and-a-half years, Zarnetske stayed on as a consultant until mid-July.
An applicant for the manager’s job after it opened four years ago, Murphy was one of the finalists during the town’s nationwide search in 2017.