Both Maplewood and South Orange are looking for new town administrators at the same time, a rare occurrence.
And their approaches couldn’t be any more different.
Maplewood, whose long-time administrator Joseph Manning is retiring May 31, launched its search last month the old-fashioned way: hiring a recruiting firm and letting them do the heavy lifting (or more appropriately the head hunting) and eventually offer up recommendations for the TC to consider.
The Maplewood Township Committee on Jan. 6, 2018, passed a resolution to appoint The Canning Group of Morristown to conduct the search at a cost of $15,000. The choice followed an open process of bidding by six firms, which ended with three interviews and the final choice of Canning.
“We thought it was best to use a professional search firm to handle the process,” Mayor Vic DeLuca said in an email.
He noted that, “The Township Committee will do interviews the end of March. There will be additional interviews with Department Directors and the community in early April. The Township Committee will make a decision in April. The new Administrator will begin in late May/early June.”
In South Orange, however, village officials – namely Village President Sheena Collum – have nixed the outside firm in favor of finding a new administrator themselves.
And the outreach for prospective applicants is a cross between a U.S. Army recruiting campaign and an ad for Six Flags amusement park.
Collum and friends have set up a special website just for the hunt, www.southorangesearch.com, which opens with an Uncle Sam-like photo of Collum declaring, “South Orange Wants You To Be Our Next Village Administrator.”
It quickly warns applicants not to apply unless they are passionate about public service, experienced, qualified and a team player.
Collum, who tells would-be administrators that they must “keep up with a millenial mayor,” said she wrote most of the recruitment copy that also demands someone who “think(s) finance is fun” and likes to “get ‘er done.”
Later, the website describes the community as having “city sense, village vibe,” a “progressive army of civic leaders,” and “a rollercoaster that the right candidate will want to ride.”
The best one may be labeling the village as an “awkwardly awesome form of government” where “nobody really ‘stays in their lane.’”
“My colleagues and I decided from the get-go, we wanted this search to be very different from the typical classified advertisements that circulate …, “ Collum said via email. “We wanted to go digital (lets save those trees), be ourselves and have fun with it while also managing expectations and providing a lot of information to candidates not typically found this early in the process.”
She points out that, unlike Maplewood, South Orange has very little time to find someone since outgoing Village Administrator Barry Lewis gave a surprise resignation to take a job in Livingston, advising the Village leadership last month.
“Enlisting an executive search firm would require putting out a Request for Proposals for a minimum of 30 days, interviewing candidates to lead the search, negotiating and awarding a contract, and ultimately compiling relevant information on how the municipality wished to position themselves to seek out the best candidate,” Collum added.
And lest anyone think that Lewis left in a huff, the recruiting website tells potential candidates, “We love him and he loves us (you can certainly reach out to him and ask him to spill the beans).”
But isn’t a search firm more experienced and qualified than the town itself to find the best person?
“I’m skeptical of executive search firms in general for two reasons: 1) non-compete clauses last for a year (more in some cases),” Collum explained in an email, later adding, “2) Flat rate services for this type of work also concern me. When a fixed fee is associated, there’s always more incentive to apply a greater portion of budget to ‘consulting’ rather than to marketing and advertising. I want the bulk of what we spend going toward broad outreach.”
She later added, “I enlisted the help of many professionals in our community including my colleague on the board Trustee Walter Clarke, who has extensive experience in graphic design and advertising; John Lopos who is the Chair of our Public Information and Marketing Committee and is an executive communications and marketing professional; Rachel Zorel of 7LayerStudio for her incredible graphic design work and beautiful website; Tracey Randinelli who is a senior editorial manager to review copy; David Kraiker, a U.S. Census Bureau Data Specialist who provided the most timely ACS information; and even our current Village Administrator Barry Lewis reviewed all content and joked, ‘hey, now I want to apply…’”
And, of course, Collum contends, “we know the type of individuals we’re seeking. No one knows our community’s needs and values more than the community itself. Personally, I want our governing body to see everything that comes in, be a part of the ‘vetting process,’ and not be quick to dismiss any potential candidate who may not fit the mold of a typical municipal manager.”