ROCKLAND — “I’m John Root.”
Through the course of 25 years working for the City of Rockland, Root has often taken to the speaker’s podium during Council meetings to clarify project details and misconceptions. In doing so, he developed a habit of approaching the microphone and automatically stating, “I’m John Root, code enforcement officer for the City of Rockland.”
On Monday, Jan. 13, during a portion of the Council meeting in which all of the attention was already on him, Root again took to the podium. With the microphone before him, the words again slipped out, “I’m John Root.” This time, however, the job title had been passed along to a new CEO.
Root has retired from his career within City Hall’s Code Enforcement Office, having passed the torch to the now-former assistant CEO, Adam Ackor, and newly-hired assistant, Wyatt Philbrook. Yet so deep is Root’s knowledge of Rockland’s codes and related ordinances that even Philbrook, who began the job less than two weeks before Root officially ended his, felt the urge to take the podium to express admiration of Root’s year’s of experience.
“I wish that I had a little more time [with him],” said Philbrook, as City Council members honored Root with a commendation and retirement ceremony. “But the little time I did have, it was very clear that John is top notch.”
Councilor Ed Glaser described Root as the front face of what the City is, and not just because of his often appearance at the CEO window in the City Hall lobby. He is, as Councilor Ben Dorr described, an excellent steward for the City, who has always wanted to help people despite an often times very contentious job.
“I want to thank the citizens of the city Rockland,” said Root. “The residents and the business owners, and the businesses. I’ve enjoyed working with everybody. It’s been a real adventure.”
Rockland’s code is tricky and full of exceptions, according to Councilor Valli Geiger.
“Both our new officers have their work cut out for them, trying to figure out all those pages and all those exceptions,” she said.
Root knows the details by heart, and he would often use that knowledge to determine ways to help individuals complete envisioned outcomes in a way that still worked for the City.
“You are sort of where the rubber hits the road for a lot of people,” said Geiger. “A lot of emotions get involved. But it is my experience that you have always worked so hard to do what is right for the City.”
One result of that work is a continuation of the status quo following FEMA’s visits to Maine’s coastal areas several years ago, according to City Manager Tom Luttrell. FEMA intended to create new flood zones.
With the foresight of the rezoning’s potential negative impact to Rockland in mind, Root fought a hard battle against the proposed rezoning and won.
“I think that saved most of Downtown from being in the flood zones,” said Luttrell.
For property owners, including Council member Nate Davis, Root is regarded for continuing the sit with them for an extended period of time. Years ago, as a brand new homeowner with no construction skills, yet wanting to build a woodshed, Davis approached the CEO. Davis had expected to be told he couldn’t do the project. Instead, he was provided with code requirements followed by a lengthy discussion, instigated by Root, as to how sheds are constructed.
In the process, he created friendships.
Glaser spoke of owning a house that needs a lot of work. During one particular project, Glaser was told “in no uncertain terms” that he needed that project completed by a certain time in order to remain compliant with code. Glaser said that instead of telling him when to do it, Root offered to use his off-duty time to lend a hand.
“That goes far beyond what you would expect from just a code officer,” said Glaser. “That’s what you get from a friend.”
A friend, Root will remain. And, much to the relief of City Hall, Root will also remain as a consultant to assist as the new team begins filling in a very large hole.
Reach Sarah Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org