• Oxford Commissioners Conduct Town Manager Search Workshop

    March 14, 2024
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    From Left to Right: Town Lawyer Lindsay Ryan, Commissioner Susan Delean Botkin, Commissioner Tom Costigan, Commissioner Katrina Greer, Town Manager Cheryl Lewis; Front Table: Donald J. Borut, Carol Kachadoorian, Virtually: David Duetsch

    The room in the Oxford Town Office was packed Tuesday afternoon as the Town Commissioners conducted a job search workshop for a replacement for the Town Manager Cheryl Lewis who is retiring as of July 1.

    To say that Lewis's tenure as Oxford Town Manager has been controversial in the past few years is an understatement. Recent questions about events such as the firing of town maintenance staff, the sudden retirement of the longtime police chief and questions about how his successor was hired, nepotism in hiring, work on the iconic Strand Shoreline, and inquiries about why financial auditor's concerns for seven years were ignored have caused citizens to become active in voicing their concerns about her actions and the actions of the Town Commissioners.

    When Lewis announced her retirement a few weeks ago, Commissioner Katrina Greer suggested the town bring in a consulting firm to advise in the hiring process for the new Town Manager, citing the engagement level of Oxford citizens and need to find an extremely qualified person for such an important position in the town.

    The evening started with Carol Kachadoorian, a resident of Oxford, explaining her experience and her role as the moderator for the discussion. She has extensive experience in town management and has lived in the town for twelve years.

    She then introduced Donald J. Borut, the former Executive Director of the National League of Cities, the nation's oldest and largest national organization representing municipal governments. Donald J Borut has more than 40 years experience in municipal government and organizational leadership in the public interest sector. He served as the Executive Director of the National League of Cities from 1990 - 2012. Prior to his NLC appointment, he was Deputy Executive Director of the International City Management Association (ICMA).

    She also introduced David Duetsch, a seasoned city manager with over 40 years of experience, who has held significant roles in municipal administration in Bowie, Maryland and Springettsbury Township in Pennsylvania. He has been the recipient of national awards. He is currently employed by Mercer Group Associates, a group that conducts candidate searches for many jurisdictions.

    David Deutsch – Mercer Group Associates

    After explaining that the purpose of the workshop was for the consultants to share their expertise and advice with the town to define the characteristics of candidates for Town Manager who would have skill sets that would work for the Oxford Community, Karchadoorian then explained the ground rules for the session stating that it was intended as a civil discourse and participants should: refrain from judging others' comments, respect everyone as equals, add to the conversation, and speak one at a time. She also said that the topic of the session was to develop the process for the search and NOT to discuss candidates for the position or the current Town Manager.

    Mr. Borut then began discussing the process, facing the crowd as he spoke. Ms. Botkin interrupted abruptly, " This is a Commissioner's workshop, WE are the ones who you need to interact with and you're talking out to the audience and we can't see your faces."

    Mr. Borut apologized, turned toward the Commissioners and continued. He explained the benefit of help in the search and the need for a defined, professional process. As an example, he said that if one broke their arm, it would heal. But, it would heal much better with an orthopedic doctor's services. He also championed clarity and transparency in the search. He stated that this could be the biggest decision in the tenure of the current commissioners.

    Mr. Deutsch, who participated remotely, described how the town may want to conduct the search and possibly develop a brochure to advertise the position. The brochure would include a profile of the town, a description of the duties of the town manager as well as possible pay and benefits. He also shared that towns similar to Oxford typically had twenty to forty applicants, but that the applicant pools are not as deep as they used to be.

    Appointed Commissioner Botkin interrupted again, " Excuse me, I just wanted to be clear. You're kind of selling us your services. I want to be clear on that."

    "No, he's actually not," Katchadoorian replied, to which Botkin answered, " That's what he said."

    Then Katchadoorian explained, " He is sharing his experience, he is not asking you to hire him."

    "That's not what he said," Botkin stubbornly replied*.

    Commissioner Greer continued the discussion describing how engaged the Oxford community is and wondering about if there could be community input into the process. Deutsch said it could be included.

    When specifically asked about fees for the service, regardless of which firm provided them, Deutsch said it would probably be in the mid $20,000 range a far cry from the $50,000 Botkin had predicted at a previous town meeting.

    Commissioner Costigan asked about whether the town may have to pay relocation expenses for candidates who lived in other states. Deutsch said that could be part of any negotiation.

    When asked to explain the pro's and con's of using a search firm for the hiring, Mr. Borut said that cons could be the fee, but this would be one of the most significant appointments the town would make and engaging a professional would be of great value.

    "$20,000 for a small town is a lot of money," added Botkin. *Writer's note: In 2023, the town had income of $6,339,000 and annually has a budget that is close to that amount.

    Deutsch explained that the time frame for hiring could be 90 to 120 days. He also said the town could have a talent pull of 50 to hire from.

    "The answer is not an "Indeed" search where you get a lot of chaff and not much wheat," said Duetsch.

    The workshop closed with several questions from citizens and a reminder again from the consultants that this would be the most significant appointment this group of commissioners might make.

    The livestream of the workshop can be found here: Stream Video - Town Hall Stream

    Writer's Note: Appointed Commissioner Botkin is on the record as being against conducting a broad search for candidates, expressing doubts that a small town like Oxford could attract from outside the local area. It was pointed out to her that the town has approximately $30 million of grants, which may make it attractive. She expressed multiple opinions against this workshop in the past.



    Jan Greenhawk

    Jan Greenhawk is a former teacher and school administrator for over thirty years. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Maryland. She also spent over twenty-five years coaching/judging gymnastics and coaching women’s softball.
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