A view of Betsy Cove in Brooksville on Monday. Brooksville is one of several towns in Hancock County that are working on long-term planning efforts as the county faces climate change, rising housing costs and the influx of vacation rentals. Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

A regional planning organization in Hancock County that has been increasingly in demand as more municipalities take on long-term planning efforts is again on the hunt for a new executive director after it lost its two employees earlier this year.

The Hancock County Planning Commission in Ellsworth is an association of local governments formed to help communities across the region with planning and development. As of late, the commission has been helping several towns work on their comprehensive plans.

The commission launched a search last month to find a replacement for Jarod Farn-Guillette, who served in the top post for about 18 months and recently left for a job at the Maine Department of Transportation. Another planner – the only other employee at the commission – was hired earlier this year but resigned after about six weeks because it wasn’t a good fit for them, said James Fisher, the chairman of the commission’s board.

With no employees left, the commission has been getting by on volunteer hours from board members and work done by two consultants.

Finding people to fill the positions has been a challenge for the commission. The ideal candidates have a master’s degree and a background in urban planning, landscape architecture, public policy or have experience in related fields.  

But it hasn’t gotten many applicants and there are more planning job openings than there are planners in Eastern Maine, said Fisher, who previously worked at the commission and has a background in planning.

“We’ve been really struggling,” he said. “There’s so many jobs out there and not many people.”

Farn-Guillette’s exit from the commission was an especially hard blow because it was just getting back on its feet after its previous director was arrested for embezzlement.

Sheri Getrude Walsh, who worked as an administrative assistant and then later as acting director, stole more than $325,000 from the commission and another nonprofit she worked for between 2014 and 2019. She went on to plead guilty to wire fraud and theft and was sentenced to two years in prison.

With no other employees, the scandal essentially shut down the commission for more than a year while it dealt with the fallout.

Farn-Guillette was hired in 2020 to help revive the organization and, in the time since, it was taking on more jobs than ever.

That work is still being done, despite the lack of employees, by the consultants and the board, according to Fisher, but he didn’t want Farn-Guillette’s seat to remain open for long. The commission may consider other interim strategies or non-conventional candidates if it can’t find the right person for the job soon.

“We’re definitely functioning but we need a full-time, if not two full-time planners,” Fisher said. “And they are very hard to get.”