Manager search revised

MERRIMACK – Town officials are trying a new approach to finding a town manager.

In past searches, the town worked with the New Hampshire Municipal Association, but opted this year to go with an executive search firm. More importantly, the search process will cull the opinions and expertise of a citizens committee formed of business, civic and school leaders.

Dean Shankle, who has been town manager for a decade, is leaving March 27, potentially to take a position in Kosovo with an international organization working to help rebuild the war-torn European nation.

Last month the Board of Selectmen hired Bennett Yarger Associates of Massachusetts to conduct a search for a new town manager. Selectmen are paying the company $14,500 plus expenses.

“Everybody associated with the firm has at one time or another served as town manager,” Whitlock said.

This week, two recruiters from Bennett Yarger will meet with selectmen and 16-20 other people, including town department heads and staff. The recruiters will ask people what they view as the big issues in town, what they’d like to see Merrimack accomplish in three to five years and – most interestingly, Whitlock noted – how the town manager has to function to be deemed a success.

“They’ll interview an array of people to get input on what the town is looking for,” Whitlock said.

The search firm then will begin the call for applications, which they’ll pare down to nine or 10 candidates.

The names will be submitted to a seven-member residents committee, made up of business leaders and representatives from civic organizations and schools. That group will whittle down that last to six names.

Then will come what a Bennett Yarger official has called a “weekend from hell.” The residents committee will interview all six candidates, and then present three names – not ranked – to selectmen, who will interview those three candidates the following Sunday and make a final decision.

That weekend is a long way from being scheduled, and the search entire process could take from 90 to 150 days.

“It was our decision to make sure this search was done in such a way to make sure it was inclusive to members of the community,” said selectmen’s Chairman Dick Hinch.

“We have certain individuals (on the residents committee) that we feel are a great cross-section of all these constituencies,” Hinch said.

Hinch said selectmen will announce the names of the committee members at its meeting Thursday.

“These are people who know the town well, and who have been active in the town in one capacity or another,” Whitlock said.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or