Originally published in The Weekly Packet, March 21, 2019
Administrator is notably different than a town manager
by Anne Berleant
“Shall the Town vote to instruct the Select Board to recruit and hire an individual to serve as administrator for the Town of Blue Hill?” begins a referendum question up for town vote on April 5.
Whether Blue Hill has the appetite to expand town government can only be answered by the legislative body, but understanding the role of a town administrator and how it differs from a town manager is a step towards making an informed choice.
The position and duties of a town manager is governed by state statute, which designates the town manager as the chief executive and administrative official of the town and requires towns to adopt either the state’s Town Manager Plan or their own plan via charter.
In contrast, a town administrator position may be created by local charter, ordinance or, as in Blue Hill’s case, warrant article, and is not addressed by statute.
While a manager and administrator are both responsible directly to the board of selectmen, in the case of a town administrator, the town creates the position specifically to fulfill its expectations and needs and selectmen generally retain more decision-making authority.
“It is virtually impossible to generalize about the position of [town] administrator because it is, by definition, ‘homegrown,’” selectmen wrote in a document for a February 27 public meeting on the proposed position.
Selectman Jim Schatz, whose 24-year tenure will end with the election of a new selectman, also on April 5, recently explained further: “In talking to Maine Municipal Association, the major difference is the relationship [with] the select board. In one case, it’s mainly driven by statute, and in the other, by the select board and the person [hired as town administrator].”
The relationship of a town administrator “demands an accountability [to] and supervision [by] the board of selectmen,” Schatz continued.
In simpler terms, Schatz said that a town administrator acts as an assistant to the board of selectmen, and a town manager is a chief executive officer.