WESTBROOK – There are no plans to cut any more city jobs before the end of the fiscal year in June, Mayor Colleen Hilton said this week.

The administration now is focusing on hiring new leadership in the fire, finance and community services departments, which were all affected by changes in leadership announced last week.

After Hilton accidentally sent an e-mail Jan. 6 to the entire fire and rescue department mentioning plans to lay off the deputy chief, the city was forced expedite the planned elimination of three positions – the second round of major changes the mayor made within her first week in office.

At a City Council meeting Monday, Hilton announced she’d be bringing in outside help and having city employees take on extra duties in order to keep departments affected by her changes running smoothly until new leadership is put in place.

In her inaugural address on Jan. 4, Hilton said she would not reappoint Fire Chief Daniel Brock, Finance Director Susan Rossignol and Recreation Director Randy Peters. Additionally, Deputy Fire Chief Thaddeus Soltys, vehicle maintenance manager Ken Gardner and Janice Grant, human resources generalist and safety officer, were laid off Friday.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant will be taking on the duties of the finance director – a position that is being replaced by a new chief financial planner, who will oversee the business of both the city and school department.

Hilton is also bringing in Rocco Marzilli, a former finance director for South Portland, to help Bryant in the mean time before the new position is filled. Bryant said Marzilli will be paid $40 per hour and work an average of 20 hours per week. Bryant will not receive additional pay for taking on the extra work.

Andrew McBrady, the recreation department’s aquatics specialist, will take over the duties of that department’s director. Currently paid $19.09 per hour, McBrady will receive an additional $3.88 per hour while serving as acting director. Hilton said she’d also be using available part-time and seasonal recreation staff to help out with the transition.

In her inaugural address, Hilton said the recreation department would be folded into a more comprehensive community services department, and a director of that department would be hired soon. Hilton said this week that Peters, who worked for the city for more than 25 years, would be welcome to apply for that job.

The fire department is undergoing the most significant changes under the new administration. Hilton said last week she’d be hiring a private management consultant to lead the long-troubled department through a 12-month transition period. Meanwhile, Police Chief Bill Baker, she said, would oversee the department.

Baker, whose salary is about $90,800, will receive an additional $250 per week as acting fire chief, Bryant said. This is the second time Baker is taking the reins of the fire department. He did the same just over a year ago, after the abrupt retirement of former chief Gary Littlefield and before Brock was hired.

Bryant said he expected to have chosen a management company to lead the fire department within the next couple of weeks. The City Council would have to approve the hiring of that company.

With the loss of both the chief and deputy chief of the fire department, the city is calling on the help of the officers in the Portland and Gorham fire departments to take command of any major incidents that occur. The line of command will be the deputy chief of Westbrook’s call company, Gary Caron, followed by a chief officer from Portland, and finally Gorham Fire Chief Bob Lefebvre.

Lefebvre said Gorham would normally send a truck and chief officer to a fire in Westbrook.

“The only difference is who would be assuming command,” he said. “Right now, Westbrook’s in a situation they need some help. Next month, it might be us.”

The city hadn’t planned on laying off Soltys for another couple of weeks – closer to the time when the private management consultant would be taking over the department.

The action came several days earlier than Hilton had planned because of the e-mail meant for Baker, Bryant and Human Resources Director Kristy Gould, but accidentally sent to all members of the fire and rescue department, in which she mentioned the deputy chief’s planned layoff.

That set off a flurry of activity in City Hall and ultimately led to the layoffs being handed out Friday, rather than later this month.

Hilton’s e-mail was in response to an e-mail sent by Baker, who wrote to the fire and rescue workers saying he would clarify information for them about possible layoffs in the fire department mentioned in recent news stories.

In response, Hilton wrote in her e-mail: “I have been asked repeatedly by reporters if there will be more changes, layoffs etc. to which I have responded that I wouldn’t rule anything out,” she wrote. “Since I was under the impression that the deputy chief was going to be laid off, I didn’t want to say NO to the question and then a week or two later, have to speak to that again.”

Hilton said she’s been flooded with e-mails during the past few days and sent a hasty reply meant only for Baker, Bryant and Gould.

“Lesson learned,” she said. “I will just exercise extreme caution. My apologies for any additional anguish this caused.”

According to Bryant, the layoffs will yield a savings of $67,000 this fiscal year and $257,600 next year. Bryant said the city is expecting a loss of state revenue of about $200,000-$300,000 before June 30.

He said department heads have been asked to curtail their budgeted expenses by a total of $190,000 between now and the end of June.

Hilton said the decision to lay off Soltys was “strictly economic.” However, she said, “it presents an opportunity for us to hand-select the right leadership to bring this department to a new level.”

Soltys was one of seven members of the department punished in December 2008 as the result of the city’s investigation into sexual harassment claims made by female firefighters Kathy Rogers and Lisa Theberge, who have been on administrative leave for more than a year. Soltys received a two-week suspension.

At the council meeting Monday, the council approved spending an additional $20,000 on intensive harassment training for the fire department from the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence.

Last year, the center completed the first phase of its training, which largely entailed interviewing members of the department at all levels. From those meetings, center Executive Director Steve Wessler made recommendations about how to proceed with the training.

Some of those recommendations had to do with developing the leadership and communications skills of Brock. The plan for the second phase had to be adjusted somewhat, based on Hilton’s changes.

Gould, the human resources director, said the training will include helping department officers build trust and teamwork, as well as skills for communicating and dealing with conflict as soon as it arises. The rank and file, she said, will be trained in conflict resolution, understanding the impact of harassment and the proper reaction to inappropriate behavior by members of the department.

Gould said morale in the department is “rock bottom.” Firefighters are tired of seeing news stories about the department’s problems, she said, and though some are glad to see changes being made, they’re anxious to see what the results of those changes will be.

“We have some wonderful people who are just coming in and trying to do their jobs,” Gould said. “They want the climate to improve, too.”


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