NAPLES — The search for a Naples town manager has taken longer than anticipated, and the Selectboard has brought on an acting manager in the meantime.
The board voted Nov. 16 to hire former Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz on an interim basis.
Selectboard Chairman Jim Grattelo said that he’s “thrilled” to have an interim manager with Berkowtiz’s experience.
“An interim manager generally tries to keep the ship afloat,” said Berkowitz, who started on Tuesday, Nov. 21.
Berkowitz, 69, has previously served as town manager in both Bridgton and Gray, and as acting manager twice in Jackman. He is chairman of the Cross Insurance Board of Trustees and serves as an ambassador for the Maine Town, City, and County Management Association, which he said are both volunteer positions. He works part time for Manchester Real Estate in Gray.
Town Clerk Judy Whynot, who in addition to her normal responsibilities, had been acting manager since Ephrem Paraschak left to become the Gorham town manager in September. Fire Chief Chris Pond has been handling issues related to town buildings and facilities.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Whynot said about Berkowitz’s role. She said it will allow her to “get back to what I usually do.”
Whynot said she had served as acting manager “several times” before.
The recent storm that knocked out power and shut down roads emphasized the need to have someone that could focus specifically on town manager duties, Gratello said.
Berkowitz came recommended by the town’s attorney, Amy Tchao of the Portland-based firm Drummond Woodsum.
Tchao some of her colleagues at the firm had “a good working relationship” with Berkowitz in the past.
Berkowitz signed an “open-ended” contract with the town, and the estimated time of his service is 6-12 weeks, Grattelo said.
There’s a chance, Berkowitz said, that his “consulting relationship continues” with Naples past that time frame so that the new manager and Selectboard are not “left hanging” during the budget process.
Grattelo also said that the “goal” is for Berkowitz to work 20 hours a week, and he will be paid $60 per hour.
In the meantime, the Selectboard plans to move forward next week with interviews of five finalists for the full-time position, Grattello said.
The Selectboard hired the Maine Municipal Association in July to help with its search.
In late October Grattelo said he hoped to have the process wrapped up in November, but clarified last week that a legal matter has slowed the process some.
According to Grattelo, a current or former elected town official, whom he would not name, had applied for the town manager position, and the town received legal advice that selecting the individual would run afoul of state law.
“It’s complicated,” Grattelo said.
Tchao, the town attorney, said she thinks it’s “pretty clear in this situation” based on state law that the individual could not apply for the position until a full year has passed since they’ve served as an elected town official.
State law says that “no municipal officer, during the term for which that officer has been elected and for one year thereafter, may be appointed to any civil office of profit or employment position of the municipality, which was created or the compensation of which was increased by the action of the municipal officers during the officer’s term.”
Grattelo said that if not for the conflict with state law, the applicant in question would “absolutely” have been one of the finalists for the role based on his or her qualifications.
Berkowitz said he has no intention of applying for the full-time position. He said he’d like to help Naples “take full advantage of the tourist industry” and build on opportunities for economic development.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Mitch Berkowitz will serve as interim town manager in Naples while the town continues its search for a full-time manager.