Council prepares to launch city manager search; considers moratorium on tall buildings in South EndCity staff report long hours, stretched resources due to unfilled position
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 594-4401 ext. 122.
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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 since 1998.