ROCKLAND — Mayor Louise MacLellan-Ruf said Wednesday night she had no plans to fire a department head and did not even have that authority.

MacLellan-Ruf made the comment Wednesday night, Jan. 4 during the City Council’s agenda-setting meeting when the issue of goals for 2023 were to be discussed.

MacLellan-Ruf said one of her goals is to improve communications and stop backroom conversations.

“I was approached by one of the directors (a department head), who said they heard from three or four people that I wanted to get them fired,” MacLellan-Ruf said.

MacLellan-Ruf said that this was untrue. She said the department head should have simply gone to her and asked. She did not identify who the department head was.

“This grew into a very big thing, and it was inaccurate. I don’t have that power. I don’t have the ability to fire any of the department heads,” MacLellan-Ruf said. “I have great respect for all of them.”

“This is a great example of communication that keeps putting me in the doghouse unnecessarily because people are not having conversations. And that is going to stop,” MacLellan-Ruf said.

The mayor in Rockland is a largely ceremonial post. The mayor moderates meetings, attends official functions, and nominates people to boards and commissions. Those nominations must still be voted on by the full City Council.

The mayor’s comments follow a critical letter to the editor penned in mid-December by former Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson in which she said MacLellan-Ruf spent considerable energy not only interfering with city staff, but engaged in actions to have staff, council members and committee members removed during her first term on the City Council.

Dickerson served on the City Council with MacLellan-Ruf from November 2013 through November 2014.

During the Jan. 4 meeting, MacLellan-Ruf also said she has told City Manager Tom Luttrell that if Councilors come to him and tell him to do things that he is to send them back to go through proper channels.

She said before new proposals are put on a Council agenda, they should be vetted.

At the Council’s Sept. 12, 2022, meeting, then-Councilor MacLellan-Ruf sharply criticized Mayor Ed Glaser for proposing a ban on new non-owner occupied short-term rentals. She also criticized Councilors Nate Davis and Sarah Austin, who were aware this proposal was being put forward before it was formally placed on the agenda. She said this showed a complete lack of process with no community discussion or vetting by the full council.

City Councilors in Rockland, however, can sponsor ordinances for any meeting and do not need approval of the mayor or other councilors per city law. Notices of agenda setting meetings are posted online and emailed out to councilors, city staff, and citizens who sign up to receive notices. There is generally then a week between the agenda setting meeting and the regular meeting at which time a preliminary vote is held. If given preliminary approval, a public hearing is scheduled for the following month and often the ordinances are referred to the appropriate city board or commission prior to a second vote. The Council often holds additional workshops on ordinances of great interest.

At the Jan. 4 meeting, the two newly elected Councilors raised questions about holding the goal setting meeting which was scheduled for Jan. 4.

On Dec. 30, Councilor Penny York had issued an email to MacLellan-Ruf and other Councilors.

“I would ask for your consideration, the possibility of moving the goal setting agenda item to a later date.  It would be a great benefit to me if we could have an initial discussion about goal setting, and what has worked well in the past, also giving me an opportunity to understand individual vs. group as well as how we will measure and report success prior to it being on the regular council meeting agenda. I want to ensure that when setting they are realistic, attainable, and in alignment with the needs of the citizens of Rockland. It’s really important to me that I truly understand it, and I’m not just follow the leader,” York stated in her email.

MacLellean-Ruf responded on Jan. 3.

“Councilor York has requested a postponement on goal setting. Which brings the question of process to the forefront. One of my goals for the year is to improve communication between Council, staff and the community. Avoiding staff/Council splitting is an easy fix for opening up dialogues,” MacLellan-Ruf said.

At the Jan. 4 meeting, the mayor said Councilors have known about the goal-setting meeting for a month and said all anyone had to do was contact her. She said she understands the new councilors may have anxiety over what the process is.

MacLellan-Ruf had sent out an email to Councilors on Dec. 5 saying “In January we will schedule a Goal Setting workshop. Prior to this meeting, please think about what you would like the City to accomplish.” No specific date was listed.

Councilor Adam Lachman said setting goals by the Council may be one of the most important things the Council does. He said he would like to see the public brought into this by having listening sessions out in the community over the next few months before goals are set. There are many constituencies — economic stakeholders (Chamber of Commerce and Rockland Main Street Inc.), youth organizations (Landing Place and the people who use the Flanagan Community Center), and elderly that the city should get input from.

Councilors will discuss goals at the end of the Monday, Jan. 9 meeting.