A backward approach

Police Chief and interim City Manager Glenn Moshier is an asset to Ellsworth. A level-headed professional with demonstrated leadership and community relations skills, he has advanced his career through hard work and strategic training. When retiring former City Manager David Cole stepped down, Moshier stepped up. He has been at the helm at City Hall for three months of the most tumultuous year many municipal officials can remember. His service above and beyond the normal call of duty deserves a hearty round of applause. 

It is unfortunate, then, that Moshier’s prospective ascent to city manager (dropping the “interim”) has been mired in controversy. There are two major issues at play, neither of which has much to do with Moshier’s specific qualifications. The first is whether the City Council was as transparent in the late stages of the search process as the board suggested it would be in the early stages. The second is whether the duties of two critical city posts — manager and police chief — should be rolled into one in some yet-to-be-determined restructuring. 

In October, the city convened a public forum to gather input about what the community wants in its next city manager (just in a city manager – there was no discussion of a hybrid position). Comments emailed ahead of time listed traits such as being available to the public, treating the public and staff fairly, keeping an open-door policy and “having a personality.” There were also calls for the city manager to live in Ellsworth. (The city charter specifies that a city manager may reside outside of Ellsworth if the council approves the arrangement.) Moshier lives in Winter Harbor. Former manager Cole lives in Brewer. Forcing candidates to relocate may limit the candidate pool, which was apparently shallow. 

With several Maine communities looking to fill key roles in the middle of a pandemic, Ellsworth did not attract as many qualified candidates as officials hoped. Just three candidates were interviewed and the initial finalist (who was never publicly named) withdrew during negotiations. Then councilors turned to Moshier, who was already doing the job. They announced that they had entered negotiations with Moshier and were considering the possibility of merging the responsibilities of city manager and police chief.

Some Ellsworth residents felt blindsided. 

At the forum back in October, the consultant the city hired said, “We will be making the announcement of who the finalists are so the public will have an opportunity to know who they are and to maybe talk with councilors if you have any input into the finalists.” 

The council announced a finalist singular. The bigger issue at hand, however, is that officials are considering changing the roles of the city manager and police chief and are doing so as part of private contract negotiations. That discussion is far larger and of more public import than the consideration of a single candidate. 

According to the city charter, a city manager “must be appointed solely on the basis of executive and administrative qualifications” and that, with council consent, the city manager may serve as the head of one or more departments “provided there is no incompatibility of office.” Should the city police chief report to his or herself as city manager? Are the positions compatible? Can they effectively be performed at the same time long-term?

Those are questions that demand thorough public vetting. The council should initiate the discussion before negotiating to hire someone for a role the community has not indicated it wants.

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