Proposed reorganization at Belfast City Hall follows wave of resignations
BELFAST - Belfast City Clerk Denise Beckett and two other staff members from the clerk’s and treasurer’s offices submitted resignation papers in late spring. As of August 2, only Deputy Clerk/Assistant Treasurer Lynn Farrar had left. Beckett and Deputy Clerk Denise Hylton have stayed beyond their planned departure dates while the city searches for their replacements. The city also brought on former Palermo town clerk Sheila McCarty to help on a temporary basis.
On Tuesday, the Council approved hiring for Amy Flood, a former branch supervisor for Downeast Credit Union, as the new city clerk. The city is seeking replacements for the other positions. City Manager Joe Slocum said the turnover period offered an opportunity fix a flaw in how those offices interact with the public.
Today, a visitor to City Hall might be approached by any of six staff members from the city clerk’s and treasurer’s offices, whose desks are stationed behind an expansive L-shaped counter. There’s no formal order to where transactions happen or who initiates them, which Slocum said leads to an unnecessary guessing game on both sides of the counter.
In his August 1 manager's report, Slocum outlined a proposal that would make a dedicated area and obvious point person for all walk-in inquiries.
Staff of the clerk’s office, including the clerk, would take four-hour shifts fielding public inquiries at the counter. This would give the ‘off-duty’ staff more uninterrupted time to do administrative work, he said.
The treasurer and deputy treasurer would no longer directly wait on the public. Slocum said those staff members would gain time to work on what he described as an increasing amount financial work that the city has had to manage in the past five years, due partly to the number of grants received by the city. The change would also put the public counter service under a single manager, the city clerk.
The reorganization would not result in any demotions or promotions, Slocum said, and the positions with split duties. The deputy treasurer/assistant clerk position held previously by Farrar, would become simply the assistant treasurer, leaving four positions in the clerk’s office and two in the treasurer’s.
Slocum additionally proposed that the lobby close to the public at 3 p.m. every Wednesday to allow for additional uninterrupted work.
"It is very challenging for a group of people to work according to solid professional standards when there is never any time available for them to meet and work on these things," he wrote in his manager’s report.
On Tuesday, Slocum said the shorter hours on Wednesday would be the largest concession required of the public. Other parts of the plan, he anticipated would make things more streamlined for residents and visitors.
The change did not require a vote from the Council, but Slocum asked for “informal support,” and during the short conversation that followed he appeared to get unanimous assent.
“I never understood why we didn’t have a dedicated person,” said Councilor Mike Hurley.
Slocum initially asked for a trial period of six months. On Tuesday he suggested the Council “try it for three months,” after Hurley voiced concern that the after-hours period Wednesday might cease to be productive over time.
Flood is slated to start as city clerk within the week. Slocum said there were 35 applicants for the position. He said he had “great confidence” in Flood’s ability to do the job.
“There’s going to be a day when I’m not here,” he said. “And I feel my responsibility is to leave behind the best people possible.”
Outgoing City Clerk Denise Beckett started working for the city in 1999. After a year spent working between several departments, Terry St. Peter, then-city manager, hired her as his administrative assistant. She continued in that role under Slocum until 2010, when she replaced Roberta Fogg as city clerk.
Beckett declined to comment publicly on why she resigned, but said her decision was not based on plans to take a different job.
“Just say I’m moving on,” she said.
In other business, the Council:
• Approved a request from Police Chief Mike McFadden to promote Belfast Police officers Dan Fitzpatrick and Matthew Cook to the rank of sergeant. The police department took on two new officers this year to meet a steady increase of calls for service. McFadden said the promotions approved on Tuesday would spread out a the growing number of administrative duties currently handled by two night-duty sergeants.
• Voted to return sealed bids on five foreclosed properties to the bidders while the Council considered what to do with the properties. Councilors wrestled with several issues related to foreclosures, including the ethics of profiting off of a resident’s misfortune and the possibility that others would if the city opts to sell the properties for only the amount back taxes, and potential liabilities related to the city owning properties with derelict structures.
• Approved using money from a federal Brownfields grant to do an environmental assessment on two properties abutting the airport in preparation for a potential property swap that would give the city land needed for a taxi way and other expansion related to the new airport master plan.
Ethan Andrews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org