South Portland city manager's resignation unexpected, but not surprising

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SOUTH PORTLAND — After being employed by the city for more than a quarter of a century, City Manager Jim Gailey resigned Wednesday for a lower-paying job with the county.

Gailey said he will leave his $123,000-a-year post in late July to become assistant county manager for Cumberland County, where his annual salary will be $106,000.

His departure will end a 30-year career with the city that began when Gailey was a referee for recreational soccer games as a high school student. He has been city manager for the last nine years.

“A lot has changed since the fall of 1986, and the experiences and opportunities that I have had working in six departments along the way are amazing,” he wrote in a June 8 resignation letter to Mayor Tom Blake. 

Gailey told Blake it’s time to “explore other opportunities and career goals.”

Blake scheduled a 5 p.m. City Council executive session on Monday, June 13, to discuss the process to find Gailey’s replacement. It is likely that Assistant City Manager Josh Reny will act as interim city manager after Gailey’s departure, Blake said. 

In an interview Thursday morning, Gailey said the position of assistant county manager appeals to him because he will have a more direct role over a broader area. 

As municipal positions are increasingly harder to fill because of a lack of applicants, and as local resources dwindle, Gailey said he believes county government will be more involved on both the local and regional levels.

“I want to get in on the ground floor,” he said.

Cumberland County Manager Peter Crichton said he is “really looking forward to having (Jim) join our team.”

Gailey’s departure was unexpected to Blake and other city councilors, but wasn’t entirely surprising.

“I think it’s been a rough year for him,” Councilor Claude Morgan said Wednesday. Councilor Maxine Beecher agreed, and said Gailey has had a “year from hell.”

Councilors referred to several long-term issues, including the dispute over liquefied petroleum gas storage at Rigby Rail Yard, and the continuing litigation in response to the Clear Skies Ordinance, the debate over which dates back to 2014.

In addition, Gailey has had to deal with negative public perception of the council, following a series of conflicts, including a councilor being accused of cronyism, and another councilor’s use of his private email to conduct city business.

Councilor Linda Cohen said while South Portland is a “wonderful community,” she’s concerned about finding a replacement, “given the acrimony in the community and some of the information that is out in the media about the atmosphere here.”
 
“If someone does their homework,” she warned, “they will Google the city and think twice.”

Regardless of the strain, Gailey was praised by councilors for his devotion and passion for the job. 

“His performance has been stellar,” Morgan said. “I have personally hoped that Jim would recognize how impressive he is and how much of an asset he is. … He is certainly capable of managing far bigger, more illustrious communities. His institutional knowledge of the city and its workings are going to be very difficult to fill.”

Beecher called Gailey the “backbone of the city,” and said he has been “unbelievably wonderful” to work with. 
 
Since the late 1980s, Gailey has worked in virtually all city departments, including parks, recreation and waterfront; public works, where he collected trash and also operated a plow truck; as delinquent property tax coordinator in the finance department; site planner in the planning and development department, where he established the Community Development Block Grant program, and assistant city manager. 
 
In his resignation letter, Gailey said “I especially want to thank the 295 City employees who make this community a terrific place to work. They are the deliverers of service and are the faces of our community.  We had a lot of fun doing a lot of great things here in South Portland and this will not change because one person is gone. I wish you all luck.”
 
Blake said Gailey was passionate about his job. 
 
“You may have somebody who is a completely competent leader, but they just have the abilities and (might) not have the passion or caring,” he said. Gailey’s passion and knowledge of the city is “unparalleled and unmatched,” and “that’s really hard to duplicate.”
 
“I’m going to greatly miss him,” Blake said. 

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.
  • spcitizen

    There are seven reasons and only seven reasons why Jim “Whatever You Say, Mr. Blake” Gailey is leaving—
    Emperor Blake
    Claude “I Have Two Middle Initials” Morgan
    Linda “Conehead” Cohen
    Maxine “Willard” Beacher
    Eben “Thorny” Rose
    The Sly Fox
    Patti “Zero Carbon Footprint” Smith

    This inept council has ruined the once proud city of South Portland.
    They are a bunch of ultra liberal eco-terrorists.
    All hail Emperor Blake!
    spcitizen has spoken