Wiscasset eyes Gerrish as interim town manager, again

Tue, 12/17/2013 - 10:30pm

Don Gerrish may return as Wiscasset's interim town manager.

A week after Town Manager Laurie Smith informed selectmen she was resigning to become Kennebunkport's town manager, the board agreed to have selectmen Pam Dunning and Jeff Slack negotiate an agreement with Gerrish to take the temp job.

Gerrish served about six months as interim town manager in Wiscasset in 2010, selectmen said. Smith has been town manager since July 2010.

The board's vote to have Dunning and Slack negotiate with Gerrish followed a closed-door session December 17.

Asked if Gerrish might be asked to move from the interim slot to become Wiscasset's next town manager, Selectmen's Chairman Ed Polewarczyk said that has not been discussed.

Smith's last day of work in Wiscasset is February 7, 2014. If Gerrish and the board seal the deal on the interim job, Gerrish will be on board for at least the early stages of drafting next year's budget.

Gerrish, currently with Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, was Brunswick’s town manager for nearly 20 years and Gorham’s for 10 years, according to Eaton Peabody’s website at www.eatonpeabody.com; he also served as president of the International City/County Managers Association, the Eaton Peabody site states.

Tuesday's board meeting was the first since Smith turned in her resignation letter.

In an interview December 11, Smith called the Kennebunkport position a great professional opportunity. But she said she will miss the Wiscasset job.

“It's like leaving something you love, for something you know you're going to love,” Smith said.

Smith, 49, said she will probably need to move closer to Kennebunkport from Auburn, where she now lives. She was an assistant city manager in Auburn before she came to work in Wiscasset.

Wiscasset selectmen and others interviewed said they were saddened, even devastated, to be losing Smith; and a Kennebunkport selectman said he and the rest of that town's board are excited to be getting her.

“We're very fortunate to have her as our new town manager,” Kennebunkport Selectmen's Vice Chairman Allen Daggett said December 11.

More than 50 people applied for the job, including other well-qualified ones, Daggett said. “But she just stood out.”

Smith's departure is a great loss for Wiscasset, said Wiscasset Area Chamber of Commerce board chairman David Stapp.

“She's a very talented and capable lady,” Stapp said. “I don't know that there are feet that can fill those shoes, but I hope so, for the sake of the town.”

Smith has been very supportive of the chamber's efforts, Stapp said.

Smith has been a regular at the chamber's “Business After Hours” events, as well as concerts sponsored by local businesses. She's also been helping selectmen and wound care product-maker Molnlycke on a possible tax-incentive deal that would help the company expand its Rynel plant on Twin Rivers Drive.

In addition to her efforts with businesses, Smith was heavily involved in this year's inaugural “Wings Over Wiscasset” event at the town-owned airport. And as recently as December 7, she was down at the waterfront, spending her Saturday afternoon standing in the wind and cheering along with Wiscasset residents as Santa Claus arrived on a lobster boat.

Polewarczyk said his emotions are mixed about Smith's decision to move on to the Kennebunkport job. He's happy for her, but the board is losing a good adviser and the town is losing an asset, he said.

“There are a few times in your life when you get to work with someone very special, and to work with Laurie has been one of those times,” Polewarczyk said.

“She's been an awesome boss,” Town Clerk Christine Wolfe said. “We are very, very saddened ... that she's leaving.”

Colby said she's devastated; she classifies Smith as a friend, she said.

She and others said Smith's work on town projects and policies has done a great deal to move Wiscasset forward.

“She has taken us so far, it's amazing,” chamber board member Sherri Dunbar said.

Smith's job switch will give her a bump up in pay, from her current $87,500 a year in Wiscasset. Her first year's pay will be $96,000 in Kennebunkport, that town's interim town manager, John Fraser, said December 12.

Wiscasset now has two key jobs to fill: town manager, and a superintendent for the town's new school department following voters' November decision to leave Regional School Unit 12.

“I think it's overwhelming at this point because so much is happening all at once,” Colby said.

However, she said the overlap in openings puts no added pressure on those involved in the searches. The processes are separate: The new school committee voters elect January 7 will look for the superintendent; the selectmen, the town manager.

“They'll be doing their thing and we'll be doing our thing,” Colby said.

As for finding the next town manager, Colby agreed with others interviewed that it will be a challenge to find someone who will work as hard and as well as Smith has.

“As much as I hate to see her leave, I do realize people have to move on, and that this is something she wants.

“I wish her well.”