Council prepares to launch city manager search; considers moratorium on tall buildings in South End

City staff report long hours, stretched resources due to unfilled position
By Daniel Dunkle | Jul 08, 2014
Source: File photo Acting City Manager Thomas Luttrell

Rockland — Rockland's City Council agreed to begin the process of searching for a new city manager July 7 after hearing reports from city employees of long hours and stretched resources resulting from the unfilled position.

The process is expected to take about three months. The council will meet Wednesday, July 23, at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall to go over the search process.

Finance Director Thomas Luttrell has been acting as city manager since the resignation of former City Manager James Smith in December. Luttrell said during the workshop meeting July 7 that it has been a very busy time in City Hall. He said he feels he is not able to perform 100 percent of what needs to be done in the finance office or 100 percent in the city manager's office being split between the two roles, but added the city staff is putting its best foot forward.

"I am here for the long haul," he said. "I hope the city is my last employer."

He added that City Attorney Kevin Beal has been putting in 80-hour work weeks to get things done on city projects.

Mayor Larry Pritchett led the discussion with councilors, asking if they would like to have a specific work plan in place for the city, providing something of a strategic long-range plan for the city manager, staff and council going forward. Usually, around this time of year, the council sets goals for the coming year and this would be part of that process.

Councilors Frank Isganitis and Lousie MacLellan-Ruf supported creating the plan to direct the new city manager and make clear to the new manager the council's expectations. Isganitis said it might also help identify desirable traits in a manager as the council conducts the search process.

Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson argued the real challenges city staff face in doing their work would not be solved with a work plan.

Councilor Eric Hebert said the priority should be getting started looking for a new city manager, though he was not opposed to the work plan. He said the plan should not be finalized before the new manager started because the manager might have some ideas for it.

Pritchett also asked if council wanted to include input from an outside personnel board or committee of Rockland citizens as part of the hiring process. Hebert and Dickerson opposed bringing a personnel board into the process.

Hebert said the process used to hire the last city manager was a good process. He said Smith did not leave the city early due to that process, but the wheels fell off the bus later.

He said nothing has changed since the last hiring process and he feels the city is ready to march forward and hire a city manager.

Isganitis asked if the personnel committee could serve in the role that has traditionally been one of the councilors serving as the point person that receives the resumes and vets the first round of applicants.

In the past the city has hired a consultant, who does lengthy background checks on the candidates for city manager. Hebert said it is good to have those done by a professional and not have that sensitive information handled by citizen volunteers.

Isganitis said the council has been criticized by citizens for hiring a consultant, but he sees there are reasons why that is done.

Hebert said there is value in meeting July 23 to go over the search process for the councilors who are new to hiring a city manager. He and other veteran councilors have been through the process before.

In other business

The council set the agenda for its Monday, July 14 meeting and reviewed several upcoming issues.

The council heard from the Comprehensive Planning Commission with recommendations for addressing the height of buildings in the downtown zone.

The council is considering limiting the height of buildings to 50 feet or four stories south of Park Street along Main Street in the downtown. The ordinance amendment was sponsored by Dickerson.

The ordinance amendment is not retroactive, so it would not affect the five-story hotel to be built at 250 Main St.

The commission proposed a six-month moratorium to give it time to review the ordinances and propose changes.

Isganitis said this is what he favored at a previous meeting when he proposed postponing the matter.

Dickerson argued his "indefinite postponement" would have killed the plan.

Luttrell asked what message that would send to future developers. He said a moratorium could have a chilling effect on development in Rockland, adding the city is trying to contain its property tax rate and has recently lost $8 million in valuation.

Dickerson admonished Luttrell at the meeting, saying it is not the place of staff to voice opinions on policy issues. "That puts you on the council," she said.

Pritchett and Isganitis defended Luttrell's contribution. Pritchett said it is appropriate for Luttrell to ask questions.

The council is set to vote on the proposed ordinance at the July 14 meeting.

Pritchett said he has heard from a number of residents who do not want to pay-per-bag. He asked if the council should consider keeping some form of dump sticker while raising the price to offset the costs of dumping household trash.

Kyle Swan has resigned from the planning board and the council may appoint Abbie Knickelbein to the position. She has been an alternate on the board.

The council will vote on whether to accept the donation of a "Genesis" sculpture from Joe Auciello, who provided it for the use in Ferry Terminal Park. It has a value of $18,000, according to city documents.

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

Comments (6)
Posted by: Maggie Trout | Jul 09, 2014 13:10

So, the City Council can waive the requirement. Well, here's Section 2-1207 Residency requirements for city personnel from the City Charter - it does say that residency is "preferred" Unfortunately, as late as 2010, I have a letter from the Mayor McNeil that the City Manager must reside in Rockland. As with the whole mayoral authority business, and the lack of up-to-date minutes for all on the city website, everybody needs to be operating from the same set of rules. Everybody should be operating with the same understanding and rules. Were the new dump fee structures changed yet on the website? If they haven't - I see they haven't - people would have grounds to refuse to pay the new refuse costs. So, get on with the hiring then.

Sec. 2-1207 Residency

A. As a Factor in Hiring. Rockland residents will receive preference by the Personnel Board when being considered for employment with the City, when ability and background are considered equivalent to a non-resident candidate for any given position.

B. Department Heads. It is the policy of the City to prefer that all Department Heads to reside within the City of Rockland. This policy is intended to underscore the commitment of those holding these high administrative positions to the future of the City, and to illustrate the willingness of these employees to live and pay taxes to the community for which they share a particular responsibility in their jobs. There shall be a residency radius required for the positions of Police Chief, Fire Chief and Public Works Director, which shall be the same as is required by the collective bargaining agreements for those departments.

C. Other Employees. If it is a legitimate job requirement for an employee to live within a certain response time or within a certain distance from the facility at which the employee works, the City Manager shall include this requirement in the job description of the position in question and shall require a successful job applicant to relocate to the area within such distance or response time within one year of the completion of their probationary period, beginning with all such employment vacancies posted after January 1, 1997. These distances and response times may also be addressed in collective bargaining agreements entered into by the City. Where time and distance requirements promulgated by the City Manager and those negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement conflict with respect to any individual employee, the applicable term in the collective bargaining agreement shall govern. Only the City Manager shall be empowered to grant a waiver of this requirement, or this time limit, or as agreed to in any collective bargaining agreement. If it is not a legitimate job requirement for an employee to live within a certain radius or response time to his or her facility, such requirements shall not be made a condition of initial hiring or continued employment with the City of Rockland.

State Law Reference:

Sec. 2-

30-A M.R.S. § 2703. Eff: 03/10/04



Posted by: PJ Walter | Jul 09, 2014 11:20

Sec. 301 Appointment; Qualifications; Compensation

The council shall appoint a City Manager for an indefinite term and fix the manager's compensation. The manager shall be appointed on the basis of the manager's executive and administrative qualifications. The manager need not be a resident of the City or State at the time of the manager's appointment but may reside outside the City while in office only with the approval of the council.



Posted by: Maggie Trout | Jul 08, 2014 22:29

But you've got to go by the City Charter, which can be read online, where it states that the City Manager must be a Rockland resident. You would either have to change the Charter or get Mr. Luttrell to move to Rockland.  And, the mayor is not empowered to do the hiring.  A City Charter change would be necessary for both things to happen, and it can be changed.



Posted by: Francis Mazzeo, Jr. | Jul 08, 2014 19:35

I agree with you Sumner. Thanks for getting us a lesson on the hiring process.



Posted by: Maggie Trout | Jul 08, 2014 13:59

The mayor does not hire the city manager, nor does anyone sitting in that position have more authority than all city councilors, save for the running of city council meetings.  Rockland does not have a "strong mayor" form of government.  If you want Rockland to have a "strong mayor" form of government, then the City Charter must be changed.

 

Outside consultants hired by the city will discard any applications that they will be well aware do not meet the desired applicant profile, which, if the City Council enacts, will ensure tha only status quo supporting applicants will be  considered for the position.  This is not in the best interest of the community.  A City Manager needs to bring broader vision as well as the ability to work constructively with existing practices so that the city is not entrenched in methodology that does not work.  The City Council retains authority over the City Manager. 

 

Any applicant worth his or her salt should demonstrate that he or she  has become thoroughly acquainted with municipal practices and procedures.  All that information is readily available.  If the search goes the usual consultant path, the Personnel Committee, or some other set of eyes needs to review all applications before they are discarded. 



Posted by: Sumner Kinney | Jul 08, 2014 13:16

 Mr. Mayor I would recommend that you show leadership and take advantage of your long term employee Tom Luttrell as the City of Rockland's next City Manager.     Is there any question about his qualifications?  Does he show up every day?  Is he of outstanding moral character?  Has he proven himself since his date of hire?  DOES HE COMMAND THE RESPECT OF HIS ASSOCIATES?  A no brainer in my view.  The Next City Manager is sitting right in your view.  Save the city time and money and waive the search. 



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Dan Dunkle
Editor
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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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