Council ponders future of city manager position

Sets agenda on city business including plans for Sea Scouts building
By Daniel Dunkle | Jan 07, 2014

Rockland — With a new acting city manager in place, the City Council is pondering when to move forward with the search for a more permanent replacement.

The council voted 4-0 Monday night, Jan. 6, to appoint Finance Director Thomas Luttrell as the acting city manager (Councilor Frank Isganitis was absent). Former City Manager James Smith resigned in December.

Luttrell served in the position on a temporary basis in late 2011 and early 2012.

In a memo to city councilors, Mayor Larry Pritchett questioned whether the council should move forward immediately with the search for a new city manager, a process he said would typically have a new manager in place in five months.

The council discussed this issue at its Dec. 23 meeting.

He pointed out that a number of projects need to be completed by the council in coming months including work on the 2015-2017 Capital Improvement Plan and the 2015 city budget, which needs to be completed by May.

"Should the city seek to keep a consistent management team in place through these?" Pritchett asked his fellow councilors. "And, does council have the time to set goals for and carefully review both the CIP plan and the budget while conducting a thoughtful, quality executive search?"

He noted that recent Maine Municipal Association publications recommend linking town/city manager contracts to specific goals and time lines in the municipality's comprehensive plan, but Pritchett contends many parts of the city's plan are outdated and the city does not have a strategic plan.

He also points out in the memo that the last two city managers have served a little less than two years each.

"It may help recruitment and retention if council has carefully pondered (and addressed if needed) any factors on the city side that may have contributed to short tenures."

Pritchett said Jan. 3, the council is weighing options on how to proceed with hiring a new city manager. One option is to move ahead quickly and advertise the position, or the council may focus on other projects that are before it and cycle back to the hiring process at a later date. He said he believes the council is likely to put off advertising the position for at least a month or two.

"A majority (of the council) did not want to proceed with a manager search at this time," Pritchett said in an email Jan. 7. "I will be adding planning and goal-setting discussions to council's agenda over the next couple of months."

Other business

In addition to appointing Luttrell, the council held its agenda-setting meeting Jan. 6 to decide the items it will act on at its Jan. 13 meeting.

One proposed agenda item was a bond ordinance for a new public works garage. This is a discussion about a proposal to construct a new garage that was postponed in August. At that time, the council decided to put a new sand-and-salt shed on the November ballot, which was approved, and postpone plans for the garage.

Councilors will likely decide next week to postpone this discussion again until March to give the council time to work on its capital improvement plan.

It was noted at the meeting that some Main Street businesses have complained about problems with snow removal from sidewalks and parking spaces downtown. Pritchett went through some of the emails and correspondence from downtown merchants, who in some cases said streets and sidewalks in Camden were clear on days when it was more difficult to get around due to the snow in downtown Rockland.

Sea Scouts building

The council will consider options for the former Sea Scouts building at Snow Marine Park at its next meeting.

In the fall, the city was approached by individuals and organizations interested in leasing or purchasing the building and some surrounding land.

The Harbor Management Commission has recommended that leasing the building is better for the city in the long term than selling it.

The council will vote next week on whether to direct Luttrell to explore leasing options for the building.

One of the concerns raised at the meeting is that leasing city property through votes of the city council can be a long slow process for businesses and organizations. Pritchett said he knew one of the parties interested is a sea kayak rental that hopes to operate out of the building this spring/summer season.

The City Council discussed allowing the city solid waste director David St. Laurent to go to Augusta and express opposition to a proposal before the Legislature to impose a $14 per ton tax on trash disposal.

Luttrell said this would cost the city a lot of money.

Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson expressed some reservations about opposing this legislation and wanted to know more about it first.

There was also a discussion of possibly imposing a fee on new businesses in parts of Rockland's downtown if they cannot provide adequate parking. The fee would go toward the eventual construction of a parking garage.

Councilors debated whether it is fair to put in place a fee for new businesses rather than all businesses and where exactly such a fee would be implemented. Money from downtown tax increment financing districts might also be utilized to build a garage in the future, it was noted.

Dickerson said she does not favor building parking lots and garages because they are bad for the environment and are not the best use of property in the area.

Councilor Eric Hebert asked to add a request from Rockland Rotary for the use of Snow Marine Park and/or the park at Chickawaukie Pond for Winter Carnival Sunday, Feb. 2.

Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at ddunkle@villagesoup.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.

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Dan Dunkle
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.

Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast for 15 years.

 

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