Committee recommends Fenwick town manager

After months of research and interviews with experts on municipal management, the Fenwick Island Town Manager Search Committee is nearly ready to make its recommendations to the town council. And the key element of those recommendations has been decided: the committee will indeed recommend the town hire a town manager.

At their May 23 meeting, committee members reviewed a draft of their recommendations for the council, making final tweaks before they submit the finished document to the seven council members for their consideration.

The draft includes not only those recommendations but much of the information gleaned from their research and a draft ordinance that would make the position part of the town’s administrative structure.

“You can’t create a new job without research,” administration assistant Agnes DiPietrantonio told the committee members, summing up their work thus far on the document.

The draft also includes the recommendation that the town council eliminate the existing commissioner positions that council members hold now — positions of oversight in areas such as public safety, beach operations, public works and budget. Instead, oversight of those areas — and the related town departments — will be part of the job of the town manager.

Committee Chairman and former council member Buzz Henefin explained that the decision to recommend the council relinquish their commissioner powers came by way of ensuring there wasn’t unneeded redundancy in the system.

In fact, a substantial portion of the draft recommendations from the committee include organizational charts and text dictating how the proposed town manager position will function in oversight of town departments, as well as how that person would interact with the council members themselves.

The draft notably recommends only limited daily supervision of department heads, citing their professionalism, expertise in their duties and established needs of the positions. Discouraging micromanagement was one of the key points for the committee in drafting the proposed job description.

In completing their final draft, committee members also elected to expand slightly the geographic area in which the new town manager can reside.

Having heard from town managers in Selbyville and Ocean View the importance of a town manager being available on short notice, they’d originally targeted a 25- to 30-mile radius around the town, mandating the town manager be residing in that area within six months. But recognizing the difficulty of obtaining affordable housing anywhere in the county, they elected on May 23 to expand that radius just a bit, to as much as 40 miles, with a little wiggle room established.

“That 30-mile radius didn’t even include Seaford or Bridgeville,” Henefin noted from his own research. The newly widened radius now also includes Salisbury, Md., he added.

The draft document provides a full job description for the new position, along with the organizational information, and provides for an ongoing review process to ensure whoever ends up in the position is able to do it well.

It also establishes processes for what the town hopes will never be necessary — removing the town manager from the office. That, they’ve decided, should be done immediately in cases involving breach of fiduciary responsibility — just one aspect of covering the town’s vulnerabilities when they hand over the reins of power for daily decisions to that one person.

With final revisions made to the draft, the committee plans to forward it to the council in the coming weeks. “I think it’s a good piece of paper,” Henefin concluded about the draft. The committee members plan to ask for a meeting with council members to review the recommendations, likely sometime in mid-June.

If the council members agree with the core recommendation to establish the town manager position, the next step for the committee will be to shift into candidate-search mode. That will move Henefin from chairman to facilitator, as well as taking the committee’s number up to eight, including several council members.

Henefin noted that he planned to tightly control application information at first, keeping applicants’ names to himself and applications sent to a post office box that he alone would access. He said that would help keep the new committee members focused on the applicants’ qualifications instead of their individual identities.

Later in the process, candidates names would be revealed, moving things forward to where the council can make a final decision to hire their first-ever town manager.