The Biddeford City Council has voted to implement a reorganization plan to streamline the chain of command in city management.

The reorganization, approved unanimously late Thursday, will combine several departments and save the city nearly $177,000 a year, according to city officials. The City Council tasked City Manager Jim Bennett with developing the plan, which results in one city employee losing her job.

The reorganization eliminates one of three deputy fire chiefs and the director of the Health and Welfare Department. Vicky Edgerly, the director of health and welfare, was put on paid administrative leave as officials considered the plan and will now lose her job. The deputy fire chief position is currently vacant.

During the council meeting, a dozen people – including Edgerly – spoke against the plan because of concerns about how the city will be able to handle administering General Assistance while helping residents find other resources.

“We have always worked very collaboratively together to serve the poorest folks in our community,” said Shirley Bowen of the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center. “I think the loss of the director is a huge loss for our community because of the extensive work that is more than just GA writing checks.”

The General Assistance and welfare program that is now part of the Health and Welfare Department will continue to be administered by two current employees but will be placed under the supervision of the city clerk. Other responsibilities of the Health and Welfare Department – including things such as responding to bedbug issues and restaurant complaints – will be handled by the Code Enforcement Office, which already does those types of inspections.

Edgerly, who had worked for the city for 27 years, told councilors she was treated like a criminal when she was placed on leave, told to turn in her keys and escorted from City Hall. She said she believes the restructuring plan will cause General Assistance costs to go up and leave residents without someone to connect them to resources to improve their situations.

City Councilor Michael Ready said he supports the reorganization plan, but was unhappy with the way Edgerly was put on leave. He said the city is “losing a tremendous amount of experience and expertise,” but believes the department will continue to operate well.

“(Edgerly) has built a team there that can handle this challenge,” he said.

Council President John McCurry said the council has been pushing for a reorganization plan since before Bennett was hired last year. “I’m glad we put some sort of plan together and it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

The reorganization also combines information technology, the geographic information system and public access into a single technology department. That department will be overseen by Brian Phinney in a new chief operating officer capacity. Phinney is currently the environmental code officer, but that position will be eliminated.

Other changes under the reorganization include having the city manager handle labor negotiations instead of hiring a contractor. Bennett said that will save the city an estimated $20,000 in the next year. Additional projected savings include $104,374 for the deputy fire chief position and $97,804 for the health and welfare director position.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian

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