CUMBERLAND — Town councilors said this week they stand behind Town Manager Bill Shane’s decision to hire the daughter of a former councilor to a $50,000-a-year position as communications director and deputy town clerk.

Eliza Porter, 22, who was an intern for the town for three years and is a recent college graduate, was appointed without the job being posted internally or advertised. Porter is the daughter of Jeff Porter, a former town councilor and school board member.

Although Shane and councilors defended the hiring and dismissed a Portland Press Herald story that included criticism of the practice, some residents criticized the town’s leadership and pointed to additional personal connections between Shane and Porter that they say show favoritism in town hiring. The two men also are next-door neighbors and Porter’s son, Samuel Porter, is employed by the town as a summer park ranger at Broad Cove Reserve, a position that also was not advertised.

Council Chairman George Turner, during a meeting Monday, congratulated Shane on his good judgment in hiring Eliza Porter and praised the promotions as a way to develop talent.

“I think most of the council joins me in feeling his judgment in the period of time has been exemplary,” Turner said. “In the selection of Eliza Porter, that judgment continues to bear out.”

“You couldn’t have hired a better person if you tried,” said Councilor Ronald Copp Jr.

Councilor Peter Bingham also spoke up Monday, calling the news report about Porter’s hiring “a total damn hit job.”

Bingham complained about the many online comments that accompanied the Press Herald’s story, some of them apparently posted by Cumberland residents and most deeply critical of the hiring.

“You read these damn fool comments on the paper, and you begin to see why we have such an uninformed electorate,” Bingham said.

In an interview Tuesday, however, Bingham said he understood how an outside observer could question the hiring, even though circumstances made Porter the best choice.

“A reasonable person from the outside would say, yes this should have been posted,” Bingham said. “I think we did the right thing, but I respect people who feel the other way.”

HIRING TRANSPARENCY QUESTIONED

No Cumberland residents attended Monday’s meeting to criticize the council, although some appear to have joined the stream of anonymous criticism posted online.

“What a disgrace. And my tax dollars pay for this newly created and oh-so-necessary position that was essentially a political gift?” one reader posted on the newspaper’s website.

“Even if she truly is the best possible candidate, what would’ve been the harm in advertising the position?” another reader wrote.

Robert Baldacci, a Cumberland resident and owner of a communications and real estate firm in Portland, said Tuesday the council was shirking its responsibility to follow a transparent public hiring process.

“When you are dealing with taxpayer dollars like we are in Cumberland, you need to follow a process,” said Baldacci, who has worked as an economic development consultant and was the chairman of the Finance Authority of Maine, among other public positions. “It is troubling to see decisions like this that are being made without following a process that is accountable to the public.”

Shane told the council Monday that he did not have any second thoughts about hiring Eliza Porter.

“We already had someone who had three years experience working with the town, (and) had done an outstanding job,” Shane said.

“We have always gone internally for candidates and will continue to do so because it is honestly the right thing to do and a less expensive way to go for the town,” he said. “I’m very confident in my decision, I would do the same thing today.”

NEWS COVERAGE ‘FELT LIKE A WITCH HUNT’

In response to additional hiring questions raised by residents, Shane acknowledged Tuesday that he offered Samuel Porter a job as a seasonal park ranger at Broad Cove Reserve without considering other applicants.

The full-time job includes making sure visitors follow the rules at the newly-created reserve and shuttling people from the shorefront to the parking lot in a golf cart. The job pays $12 an hour and according to Shane, Porter was selected because, like his sister, he has worked for the town before, videotaping public meetings and as a seasonal worker last summer.

Shane said the fact that he lives next door to the Porter family didn’t come up during the town’s discussions about hiring Eliza Porter to her new position.

“I didn’t really think it was relevant,” he said. “Eliza’s credentials and experience made it a pretty natural choice.”

Shane said he felt that news coverage of the hiring is “almost some type of negative campaign against me and her family.”

Jeff Porter did not return a phone call Tuesday.

Shirley Storey-King, another councilor, said the news coverage felt a “little bit like a witch-hunt.”

Children of town officials, including the Porters, have been employed to video-record municipal meetings, and interns have been promoted to other administrative jobs, Storey-King said.

“I think these kind of things do happen in other places. If you know someone is really super qualified, you try to hold onto them and figure that out,” she said.