WESTBROOK ā€“ New Westbrook Mayor Colleen Hilton wasted no time revamping her staff, announcing in her inauguration speech Monday that she had dismissed three department heads.

Hilton said she was not reappointing Fire Chief Daniel Brock, Finance Director Susan Rossignol and Recreation Director Randy Peters.

The mayor, during her campaign and since her election, made no secret of the fact she’d be making some major changes to the staff and structure of the city. Along with the dismissals announced Monday, Hilton laid out restructuring plans and said the city can expect more changes coming soon.

“I ran my campaign on leadership and accountability and I intend to continue along the same path where good work has been done – to acknowledge and continue along a path and to redirect or reshape where I think change needs to occur,” she said in her inauguration speech.

Rossignol’s duties will be taken over by a new chief financial planner, a position approved by the City Council in December to oversee the finances of both the city and school department. Hilton said she hoped to hire someone by the end of the month.

The position of recreation director will also be eliminated. That department will be folded into a new, more comprehensive Community Services Department, which will be directed to work with social services, like United Way, Westbrook Housing and the Westbrook Children’s Cabinet. Hilton said she also wants to see more recreation programs, which she said were “sort of stagnant.”

The change will also coincide with the department moving from Foster Street into the Wescott Junior High School, as soon as students move into the new Westbrook Middle School. An advertisement for the new department’s director will be posted immediately, and Hilton hopes to have someone in place by February.

Hilton plans to have a private management consultant take over the fire department for the next year and appointed Police Chief Bill Baker to fill in as its head in the mean time.

The City Council, which is mostly Democratic, has been largely supportive of Hilton, also a Democrat, and her decisions.

“I’m very confident in the decisions the new mayor has made,” City Councilor Michael Foley said after the inauguration Monday. “I think it’s going to be for the better of the community.”

John O’Hara, the council’s sole Republican, said he, too, thinks “combining some of the departments is in the best interest of the taxpayers and city government as a whole.”

“The bulk of the changes are warranted,” he said, but declined to go into further detail about the specific decisions made by Hilton, who defeated three-term Republican incumbent Bruce Chuluda in the November election.

Hilton’s sweeping changes were supplemented by the creation of two new committees to advise the City Council. Brendan Rielly, who was re-elected by the council to serve as its president Monday, announced the creation of the Green Committee and the Best Westbrook Task Force.

Led by new Councilor Victor Chau, Rielly said, the Green Committee would include members of both the council and the School Committee and would consider citywide recycling, environmental and energy-related opportunities.

“While we have dealt with a number of environmental and energy-related items over the years, we have had no cohesive environmental and energy policies on the city side,” Rielly said Monday.

The Best Westbrook Task Force would also include council and School Committee members, as well as city and school staff, business leaders and residents. Rielly said the group would look at infrastructure and facility needs and develop an action plan, a funding plan and an implementation plan for them.

“I think this could be a dynamic, vibrant way to get citizens, staff, elected leaders and members of the business community to come together to develop a cohesive plan instead of reacting to emergencies,” Rielly said. “Being more proactive instead of putting out fires provides a better product for the taxpayers and saves money.”

Meanwhile, at City Hall, it’s been a busy week and one of mixed emotions. While some employees are feeding off the excitement of the new regime, others are reeling from the loss of longtime co-workers.

“We’re definitely going to miss our director,” said Louise Marcellino, secretary for the recreation department.

Marcellino said Peters, who worked for the city for more than 25 years, was a great boss and a mentor. He could not be reached for comment this week.

Rossignol, who said she was still confused about why she was let go Monday, had been the city’s finance director for 32 years. She said she has already applied for the new chief financial planner position.

“I was originally told I would have my job until the new job was settled,” said Rossignol, who was five years away from retiring.

“I just wish they had let me finish my time with the city and retire as I planned,” she said.

The morning after the inauguration, news media swarmed Hilton’s new office. In between working at her regular job as chief executive officer of VNA Home Health and Hospice in South Portland and meeting with members of the fire department at noon, Hilton stopped to answer questions about her decisions. She stepped into the new role adroitly, seemingly unfazed by the cameras, notebooks and microphones.

Between interviews and getting her computer set up at City Hall, Hilton looked out onto her office, which she had yet to decorate. She thought it could use a rug to warm the place up and a new color scheme – too much blue, she said.

But Hilton assured that taxpayers wouldn’t be responsible for sprucing up her new space.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll be painting it myself.”


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