CUMBERLAND — The Town Council has appointed a recent college graduate and daughter of a former town councilor to the newly created $50,000-a-year post of communications director, making Cumberland one of the few municipalities in Maine with such a position.

The job was not advertised to external candidates or posted internally, a practice allowed under the town’s hiring policy.

The council unanimously confirmed Eliza Porter as a new department head last month. The 22-year-old University of Maine graduate will also serve as Cumberland’s deputy town clerk, a job that has been vacant since 2010.

Town officials said last week they supported elevating Porter to the position without considering other candidates, saying they know she is qualified because of her work as an intern at Town Hall. But the practice can be risky, according to a Maine-based expert on government ethics who said public jobs should always be advertised.

Porter has worked for the town on and off since she was 16. Town Manager Bill Shane said her $50,000 annual salary in the new job is the lowest salary for full-time administrative staff in the town.

Cumberland’s salaries for other administrators range from $51,000 for Fire Chief Daniel Small to $121,000 for Shane.

Some Maine communities have policies requiring that open jobs be posted. Old Orchard Beach, for example, has a policy that states: “In all cases, the town will provide notice of available positions to all employees by posting job openings at all job sites.”

Cumberland’s hiring policy states that vacancies in any position may be filled by internal posting or outside advertising, and vacancies in positions above entry level may be filled by promotion if the town manager and department head judges it is in the best interests of the town.

Maine Department of Labor spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said there might be state requirements for posting municipal jobs if the positions are subject to union contracts, but Cumberland’s are not.

Hiring Porter is part of a succession plan to replace town employees who are nearing retirement age, Shane said. Porter was selected for the position because of her outstanding work as an intern, familiarity with Cumberland and the town office, and interest in town government, he said.

“She is a bright shining star and someone the town is fortunate to have hired to assist our town clerk,” Shane said in an email.

In her first job for the town office, Porter recorded video of town meetings. As a paid intern for three summers she organized a public information campaign about the expansion of natural gas to Cumberland, promoted local businesses through the Cumberland Maine Business Association and assisted with the town’s senior programs.

SPLIT DUTIES, LEARNING THE JOBS

Porter studied communications and business management at UMaine, and was recognized for outstanding academic achievement at the school of communication and journalism.

Her father, Jeff Porter, was a town councilor for 12 years before stepping down in 2011 and was a School Administrative District 51 board member in 2012-2013. They are not related to SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter.

Shane said Eliza Porter will spend about a quarter of her time as communications director and the rest in her role as deputy clerk. Most of her first year will entail learning her job responsibilities, including all town clerk functions, tax collection, elections, social media, the town website, emergency communications and economic development.

It is common practice for the town to promote from within before advertising open positions, Shane said. Town attorney Alyssa Tibbetts was a Town Hall intern and rose to assistant town manager before taking a job at the Portland law firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry in 2014.

The town decided to fill the deputy town clerk’s position now because there is more day-to-day business at the town office and leaving the position vacant was a vulnerability, Shane said. “When we had an intern who had an interest in pursuing that career, that candidate fit the bill for all of us,” Shane said. If Porter had not accepted the offer, the town would have had to advertise for the position, he said.

But without publicly advertising the position, the town doesn’t know for sure that it has hired the best candidate for the job, said Calvin Mackenzie, the Goldfarb Family Distinguished Professor of American Government at Colby College in Waterville. MacKenzie has led seminars on government ethics for leaders of public agencies, among other things.

“Even if you have someone on the inside who is skilled and talented, you don’t know who you might be missing,” Mackenzie said. Hiring an internal candidate without advertising the position can also create an image problem and may give people the impression the position was handed out unfairly, he said.

“There is always the appearance problem in the public sector that someone knew somebody or had political connections, and it is aggravated if you don’t advertise,” MacKenzie said.

“It would be very easy for someone who didn’t know the job existed to think it was filled for the wrong reasons. I think in the public sector especially, you should give everyone an opportunity to apply for that job,” he said.

Town councilors said they agreed with the decision to hire Porter.

“I can’t say enough good things about her. She is very intelligent,” said Town Councilor Ronald Copp Jr. “Absolutely couldn’t find a better person for the job.”

Peter Bingham, another town councilor, echoed Copp.

“I think, given the fact that she worked here for three years, was very familiar with a lot of the stuff going on in town, and as far as the communications, we felt she was qualified,” Bingham said.

Tom Gruber, chairman of the council’s finance committee, said the council was informed about the hire.

“There wasn’t any debate on it or anything. It was acknowledged that the position made a lot of sense. It was in the budget and we felt it could be accommodated,” Gruber said.

Cumberland’s municipal operating expenses have increased from $7.8 million in 2013 to $9.5 million this year, according to town budget documents. The total municipal budget rose from $8.7 million to $10.7 million over the same time period.

Councilor William Stiles declined to comment when contacted last week. Council Chairman George Turner, Vice Chairman Michael Edes and Councilor Shirley Storey-King did not respond to interview requests.

INTERNAL PROMOTION ‘NOT UNUSUAL’

It is rare for town and city governments in Maine to have a communications director, although most have an employee who performs that function, said Steve Gove, executive director of the Maine Municipal Association.

Out of the eight largest communities in the state, all with more than 20,000 residents, only Portland has a communications director, although Lewiston has a community relations coordinator. Cumberland has a population of a little more than 7,100, according to the 2010 census.

In an interview, Porter said she did not know her summer work for the town could turn into a full-time opportunity until Shane talked to her about the position a year ago.

“The town is very big about promoting people internally. This has happened with many employees, (and) this is not unusual at all,” she said.

Some of her college friends have had to move out of state to find jobs, and she is grateful she can stay in her hometown and work in a job she loves, Porter said.

“I’m very fortunate for this opportunity,” she said. “I think it is great for the town to promote youth and allow them to stay in Maine if they want.”