A formal vote is still required, but the South Portland City Council is poised to hire Don Gerrish, the former, longtime Brunswick town manager, to act as the interim city manager while a national search is launched to replace Jim Gailey, who announced his resignation earlier this month.

In addition, the city will likely hire Gerrish’s consulting firm, the Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, based in Augusta, to conduct the search for a new city manager. Gerrish said Tuesday that search would likely take at least three to four months from start to finish.

Gerrish has proposed to the City Council that he work three days a week, or about 22 hours, at a rate of $650 a day, although that fee is negotiable. Hiring his consulting firm to conduct the search for a new city manager would be an additional $10,500, although again that fee could change depending on the outcome of contract negotiations.

The plan to hire Gerrish as the interim manager and his consulting firm to conduct the search for Gailey’s replacement were both discussed at a City Council workshop on Monday, where the majority of councilors reached a consensus on working with Gerrish going forward.

A second workshop to work out the details could be held as early as Wednesday, July 6, or Monday, July 11.

After that, the council would take a formal vote on two proposed contracts. One would confirm Gerrish as the interim city manager and one would hire his consulting firm to conduct the management search.

Mayor Tom Blake was a dissenting voice Monday, arguing that Assistant City Manager Josh Reny should have been promoted to the interim manager post. He also said that the city’s own human resources office is more than capable of conducting the search for a new city manager.

He was overruled, however, and Tuesday, Blake told the Current that while he was not personally in favor of the plan, “I will support the council’s decision.”

Blake said that Gailey’s last day on the job would be July 22 and the goal would be to have Gerrish on board before then, if possible. While he feels the city could have saved money by doing everything in-house, he praised both Gerrish and his consulting firm for their “considerable experience.”

Gerrish told the Current Tuesday that he’s acted as the interim manager for seven to eight communities since retiring from his position in Brunswick, including for the city of Auburn, which he said was probably most comparable to South Portland in terms of size.

Essentially, he said, he would have the same duties that Gailey now carries, including attending all City Council meetings and workshops. He would also “make sure that everything that needs to be done gets accomplished” and be on hand to handle any issues or emergencies that may come up.

Overall, Gerrish said, his goal as the interim manager would be “just to keep things moving” and to “make the path smooth” for whoever is hired to lead the city going forward.

“I am looking forward to working with the council, the staff and the citizens and to having a good outcome in the end,” he added.

Gerrish also said “it’s customary” for communities to hire an interim manager.

“You really need to have that position filled,” he said.

According to his profile on the Eaton Peabody Consulting Group website, Gerrish “has been involved in all aspects of town and city management in the state of Maine for over 37 years.” He has a degree from the University of Maine and is a former president of the Maine Town and City Managers Association.

Gerrish lives in Brunswick and would commute to South Portland, he said.

Gerrish said his consulting group would thoroughly acquaint the council with the city manager search process in advance so that everyone understands how it would work.

That outline would include a timeline, from placing ads in national trade publications to the naming of finalists to the hiring of a candidate, Gerrish said.

He added that if the final candidate is already employed, it could be another 30 to 45 days after their hiring before the person could actually start duties in South Portland.

Gerrish said these days, municipalities are not seeing as many applicants for the manager’s post as they did before and said that each community’s reputation, it’s pluses and minuses, would likely impact on the total number of applicants.

He said, for instance, that when looking for a new manager for Bar Harbor a couple years ago, his consulting firm received about 50 applications, but for the more recent city of Biddeford search, the firm got about half that number.

Gerrish said he would recommend that South Portland conduct a nationwide search for a new manager and to advertise in the places where the city is most likely to reach the largest number of candidates.

Gailey submitted his letter of resignation June 8. He is leaving South Portland, where he’s worked in various posts his entire career, to become the new assistant county manager for Cumberland County. Gailey’s salary as city manager this year is $123,000.

Don Gerrish

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