South Portland city manager finalist made quick exit from last post

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Although one of the two finalists for the city manager’s post suddenly stepped down from his last position amidst controversy, city leaders say difficult situations come with the territory of being a manager.

James “Ty” Ross, of Dalton, Georgia, tendered his immediate resignation as city administrator in mid-September without publicly disclosing a cause or reason why, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen, in Georgia.

However, Mayor Tom Blake on Wednesday morning said that Ross and the second candidate, Edward Collins, of South Portland – were vetted thoroughly and will continue to be next week, as they meet with the public and department heads.

According to information published by the Citizen, the Dalton City Council paid Ross a separation agreement of $26,000 and required him to waive all claims against the city at the time of his departure, but the subject of any potential claims was never released.

Earlier this month, the Dalton council discovered that Ross had signed two different contracts with the same developer for the city’s purchase of a piece of property, according to the Citizen. It was not clear why or how the duplication of signatures occurred, the Citizen found. The property was intended to become a park, and one of the contracts included a penalty of more than $370,000 if the city failed to seal the deal.

Leaving a city manager’s position abruptly is not necessarily a cause for concern, Blake said. In fact, “It’s something we see across the board,” he said. “It has a lot to do with the general nature of government positions today.”

The average lifespan of a city manager used to be between six and seven years, he said. That number has dropped to between four and five, simply because the position is subject to long hours, shifting components, and working with a revolving door of elected officials, Blake said.

Ross, along with Collins, a South Portland resident who was formerly employed in Lehi, Utah, were announced as the finalists last week. In total, the city received 23 applicants for the position, most of whom were from out of state, Gerrish said Wednesday.

Ross holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, a law degree from the Georgia State University and a master’s of business administration from Kennesaw State University. Prior to serving as city administrator, he was assistant dean of Dalton State College’s business school, and an attorney for six years.

Collins has been the general manager of the multi-disciplinary engineering firm, Civil Science for the last 10 years, according to LinkedIn, but he also left a previous position suddenly.

Collins served for a decade as city manager of Lehi, Utah, until he stepped down in 2006 after learning it was likely his contract was going to be terminated as a result of a strained relationship between the mayor, the council and city administration, according to an article in the Lehi Daily Herald.

Prior to his work in Lehi, Collins was a business services manager in West Valley City, Utah, and, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was town manager in Baileyville, Maine; town manager of Lubec; community development director in Calais; and executive director of the Quoddy Region Job Opportunity Zone in Washington County.

Collins holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Utah.

If selected, one of them will replace interim City Manager Don Gerrish, who has filled in since July, when Jim Gailey left the post after nearly 10 years to become assistant county manager for Cumberland County.

Both finalists will meet with residents and city staff next week before undergoing final interviews Thursday evening.

Collins and Ross are set to field questions from the public 6-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2 in the senior wing of the South Portland Community Center.

On Thursday, the two will meet with city department heads and school Superintendent Ken Kunin before being vetted in a final round of interviews by the council later that night. The council’s choice is expected to be announced in two weeks.

“These two are excellent candidates,” Blake said. “We would not bring forward any candidates we felt were inappropriate for the job.”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or aacquisto@theforecaster.net. Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

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South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.