NORTH ATTLEBORO — Residents want their first town manager to be someone who looks to the future but understands and connects to their community.

A consultant hired by the new town council to help land a town manager held a public forum Thursday night to get citizen input for the search process.

About 15 residents turned out for the session, held in the police station community room.

The town manager position will have more authority than the town administrator post it replaces, with the power to hire and fire employees and supervise town departments. It was created along with the town council by a charter adopted by voters. The council replaced representative town meeting.

“The new charter gives the town manager enormous power. My concern is hiring someone to use that power without becoming a dictator,” said Robert Nerz, who had chaired the RTM coordinating committee.

Nerz added he wants to see someone fill the post who will work collaboratively, be receptive to guidance from the council, and be open to new ideas.

A benefit of going with a town manager/town council form of government over a mayor/council is the former is more apt to be working on the same page, responded Bernard Lynch, principal with the consultant, Community Paradigm Associates of Plymouth.

“There’s going to be some angst going into a new form of government and also some adjustment. They need to be savvy about that,” former selectman Mark Williamson said, also suggesting the town manager be a resident or have to become one. “The person who is going to lead the town needs to have ties and roots to the town. It will open up to acceptance.”

Lynch said a residency requirement would “shrink the pool (of candidates) dramatically.”

“People in town are looking for either a superman or superwoman,” remarked resident Richard Kieltyka, who pointed to “monumental changes” with the charter and Proposition 2 1/2 budget override passing. “Whoever comes in is going to be under the microscope.”

Another resident, Ben Chalot advised that the town manager should have a master’s degree, be strong with technology, a great communicator and excel at supervising and managing people, which he said is “probably one of the most difficult parts of the job.”

Marie Clarner, who served on the RTM for three decades, said she feels North Attleboro has struggled to find its identity since its jewelry industry days. She said she hopes the town manager will understand and help retain the “small town” feel and have connections with state officials.

Lynch said a town manager needs to understand economic issues, see the big picture and be engaged in the community.

“The first town manager will set the tone” for the town’s future, Lynch said.

John Petrin, senior associate with the consulting firm, suggested the manager have flexibility and perseverance and be a team leader.

Residents can send comments to Bernard Lynch via email at blynch@communityparadigm.com.

A volunteer screening committee will be assisting the consultant reviewing applications and resumes, interviewing applicants and recommending five finalists to the town council over the next few months.

“It’s a very competitive market right now for municipal managers,” Lynch said, noting about half the towns in the state have turned over town administrators or town managers in the past 3 1/2 years and about 35 have retired since January.

Stephen Peterson can be reached at 508-236-0377.

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