South Portland city manager finalists meet residents

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Dozens of residents showed up to meet the two finalists for city manager during a meet-and-greet Wednesday evening at City Hall.

Patrick Venne, of Portland, is an attorney and a project executive with Miami-based developer The Federated Cos. and a former town manager of Berwick. Scott Morelli, of New Gloucester, is the city manager of Gardiner. 

The City Council removed a residency requirement to appeal to a wider pool of candidates after the first search ended when Ed Collins of Lehi, Utah, unexpectedly turned down the job in November. 

Mayor Patti Smith said by removing the residency requirement, a whole new group of people became interested in the position. 

According to interim City Manager Don Gerrish, after the mandate was removed, 33 applications were submitted, 10 of which were from Mainers. During the first candidate search, Gerrish said, the city received mostly out-of-state applications, and only two of 23 were from Maine residents. 

Wednesday’s meeting was informal, with residents getting the opportunity to chat with both candidates. Several shared their thoughts.

Rosemarie De Angelis, a former councilor and mayor, said, “I think a city manager should be mandated to live in the city, pay taxes, know the schools. Across the bridge to Portland is too far. All the way to New Gloucester is way too far. … They should eat, breathe, and sleep our community.” 

Linden Thigpen, who has been a resident for more than 40 years, said she is pleased the city expanded the criteria during the second round, and called city officials “progressive” and said she is proud of the council for the open-minded attitude they displayed during the hiring process. 

“They reassessed their approach, were flexible, restructured it and got more to apply,” Thigpen said. 

De Angelis said the manager has to be a visionary; someone who has a good sense of the big picture.

But despite her opinion that a city manager should be required to live in the city, she said she was impressed with Morelli.

“He really has his pulse on the community,” De Angeleis said. “He sees the big picture.”

Thigpen said she “was impressed with both candidates. I think it will be a more difficult choice. I think they both bring new ideas and have good backgrounds.” 

M.J. Ferrier, a representative of Protect South Portland, said she came out to meet the candidates because the citizen organization, founded in 2013 to advocate for environmental, health and welfare causes in the city, “has a vested interest in this.”

“They are both pretty impressive guys,” Ferrier said. 

Karen Wentworth said, “It’s time to get political. I’ve always been political. It’s time to get off the couch and get involved.”

After speaking with Venne, who grew up in South Portland and Portland, but before speaking to Morelli, Wentworth said, “(Venne) has put a lot into city planning.”

Charlie Thieme said he came to the meet-and-greet because he “wanted to meet the city manager candidates and ask their vision for the city.” 

The selection process continued on Thursday, with the candidates meeting city department heads and school Superintendent Ken Kunin, followed by an evening closed-door interview with the City Council.

Gerrish said the council hopes to announce its choice next week. 

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

South Portland city manager candidates Patrick Venne, left, and Scott Morelli.