ROCKPORT – Selectmen named Robert Peabody town manager Monday night, though the selection came in a split vote.
The decision followed two meetings in recent weeks at which selectmen had hoped to come to resolution on the manager question, but failed.
Voting in favor of hiring Peabody were Geoffrey Parker, Gordon Best and Peter Hall. Jon Duke and Dana Start voted against hiring Peabody. Start recorded his vote by cell phone, since he is out of town.
The board apparently had deadlocked in recent weeks between Peabody and current Union Town Manager Andrew Hart, though selectmen would not confirm that Hart was the other finalist.
Peabody is the part-time town administrator in nearby Hope. He also serves as the part-time director of the Mid-Coast Solid Waste Corp., a quasi-municipal organization that manages trash and recycling for Camden, Rockport, Hope and Appleton.
Peabody has served in Hope for two years. His previous municipal experience includes stints on the Rockland City Council, including a term as mayor.
Peabody also ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the state House of Representatives as a Democrat. He lives in Rockland.
The new manager will begin March 15. Current manager Ken Smith’s three-year contract expires March 12.
Selectmen said they have not yet completed contract negotiations with Peabody on compensation and duration, but are confident those issues will be resolved.
“He has excellent people skills,” Best said of Peabody, and predicted he would work well both with town employees and the public.
“He has a variety of experience,” he added.
Parker cited Peabody’s “vision and maturity,” and added that he is “a straight shooter,” who will help end the perception in town of secret dealings.
“He’ll smooth out the rough spots,” he said.
But some rough spots may remain.
Duke said he would support Peabody, but said his vote against the hire reflected larger issues.
“The process was not one conducive to finding the best town manager,” he said, and added that the split vote reflected “deep divisions” on the board.
“I felt a strong amount of experience in the field was important,” Duke said, apparently alluding to Peabody’s lack of municipal management experience. Earlier in the meeting, during the time for public comment, former Selectman Bob Duke – Jon Duke’s father – spoke in favor of Hart.
“We need somebody that has a track record,” he said, adding that Hart and Peabody have had “two different career paths.”
Hart has 10 years of municipal management experience in the Union job, and has a degree in municipal management.
While the elder Duke has had dealings with both men, he said, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist” to see who is better qualified for a town manager post.
Sources close to the selection process have said an offer was made to Hart, but the board failed to come to terms with him on compensation.
Best and Hall would not comment on whether or not a job offer had been made to Hart, citing the sanctity of the executive sessions at which such discussions would have occurred.