South Portland City Council openly reviews policy, manager

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council on Monday held a spirited and public discussion about the city manager’s job performance and, to some extent, the city’s personnel policy.

Councilors generally described the city’s personnel policy as a flawed document, and City Manager Jim Gailey said he has been working behind the scenes with the human resources director to make revisions.

However, most of the discussion was about Gailey’s handling of the layoff of five city employees and subsequent public fallout. It was the first time
since the early 1990s that the city’s largely veteran workforce was
targeted for layoffs.

Councilor Patti Smith, who has a background in human resources, presented suggestions for changing the policy. Any layoffs should be coupled with a three-phase plan that would communicate how the decisions were reached, address what is referred to as “survivor syndrome” of remaining employees and a six-month post plan review. 

“People are asking for more transparency and to have their questions answered,” Smith said. “I’ve found myself frustrated at times. Our policy might be able to get us through these tough times.” 

Councilor Linda Boudreau said those policies should be determined by Gailey, not the council. Boudreau then railed against public statements made by some councilors, employees and residents about the way the layoffs were handled and subsequent criticisms of city department heads. She also claimed “the press” has published insinuations about city employees.

“It feels like we’re after a pound of flesh,” Boudreau said. “It seems like a lot of innocent people have been targeted in such cruel and vicious ways that no one can be proud of.” 

She added, “Those five employees are not going to get their jobs back because we hanged Tim Gato,” the newly appointed deputy of Parks & Recreation, Public Works and Libraries.

Councilor Jim Soule, however, criticized Boudreau’s rhetoric, suggesting it was unproductive. “It does no good to be talking about a pound of flesh,” he said.

Although Boudreau argued that personnel policy should not be driven by public sentiment, Soule said residents have a right to question their government. 

“People are questioning the methodology of the layoffs,” Soule said. “If we think we have done our best effort, then I am disappointed.”

The conversation then turned to Gailey’s handling of the layoffs. Although the council scheduled an executive session to evaluate the city manager, the discussion unravelled in public and the council did not address the motion for an executive session at the end of the workshop. 

The executive session was requested by Soule and it’s unclear whether he will seek another closed session on May 18. 

Gailey repeated that the layoffs were made based on positions, not people. If anything could be changed, Gailey said he would have provided career and emotional counseling services at the time of the layoffs, with subsequent follow-up. He would have also held a press conference to answer questions, rather than spending weeks addressing inquiries. 

In addition to revising the personnel policy, Gailey said department heads are devising strategic plans that would be used to guide future staffing decisions. He has also redoubled efforts for regular performance reviews of both department heads and their employees. 

Councilor Jim Hughes, along with most councilors, expressed their support for Gailey.

“It was the best that could have happened with the situation,” Hughes said. “Five people lost their jobs – there’s no good way for that to happen. I’m glad the city doesn’t do a good job of (laying people off).”

On Wednesday, Gailey said he did not know the public discussion would focus on him. However, he said he was glad it happened and afforded councilors an opportunity to express their opinions. Gailey said not a day goes by without him reliving the February layoffs. 

“I think it was a healthy discussion,” Gailey said. “It allowed me to tell the council what we’ve been doing behind the scenes.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

 

Sidebar Elements


SOUTH PORTLAND — The director of the city’s largest municipal department has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an independent review of his department.

City Manager Jim Gailey said he decided on May 8 to place Dana Anderson on paid leave until further notice. As director of Parks & Recreation, Public Works and Libraries, Anderson oversees an annual budget of $9 million.

The decision to place Anderson on paid leave came weeks after Anderson settled a lawsuit that accused him of embezzling $37,500 from a not-for-profit association of basketball officials.

Anderson admitted no wrongdoing while agreeing to pay the International
Association of Approved Basketball Officials $900 to drop the charges.
A Maine State Police criminal investigation into the allegations produced no charges. Claiming the allegations were personally motivated, Anderson, who fought the embezzlement allegations for six years, said he settled the lawsuit to put the issue behind him.

But Anderson has only faced more intense scrutiny since the settlement was reported.

He and other city officials have been criticized by workers and residents for the layoffs five longtime employees, four of whom worked for Anderson.

Some residents and city councilors have also raised questions about Anderson’s hiring of relatives and his acceptance of donations to his department without City Council oversight.

An independent review into allegations made by Deb Smith, one of the fired city workers, is also being conducted. Gailey said an independent audit of Anderson’s department will be conducted, too.

“I have an independent review coming close to an end and an audit review to take place shortly,” Gailey said. “(The) findings of those reports will play a role in my decision” about whether to reinstate Anderson, he said.

Tim Gato, who was recently appointed deputy director of Parks & Recreation, Public Works and Libraries, is running the department in Anderson’s absence, Gailey said.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net
0