|Joe Samolis being interviewed by the Common|
The Council approved the job description in a vote of eight in favor and four against (nays - Blanchard, Bartolotta, Kleckowski, Salafia).
The job description, which had already been altered by the mayor to allow for a director of planning and development to be selected without the educational and certification previously required by the job description.
That job description was further altered, after an amendment suggested by Republican council member Seb Giuliano. While the details of the amendment were not shared with the public at the meeting, Democratic council member Gerry Daley explained that the latest amendment broadened the roles and experience expected of a director, and narrows the number of years of planning experience required.
After the job description was altered, allowing Samolis to be considered for the position, the Council voted again to appoint Samolis to the director's role. The vote was 8-4 in favor of hiring Samolis (nays - Blanchard, Bartolotta, Kleckowski, Salafia).
Many residents, several of them co-workers of Samolis in town hall talked about the high caliber of Samolis' character, and his ability to get a job done. Several of those who spoke in favor of a rewrite of the job description, and the hiring of Samolis, concentrated primarily on Samolis, and their experience in dealings with him.
In addition, about half of the sixteen people who stood at the podium to praise Samolis were city hall employees or colleagues of Samolis. These colleagues praised Samolis' intelligence, integrity, determination, competence, honesty and ability to work with a wide variety of people. Several downplayed the need for professional certification for a director to conduct business in the planning office.
Among those from city hall endorsing Samolis were Police Chief Bill McKenna, Fire Chief Robert Kronenberger, City Attorney Brigg Smith, Town Clerk Linda Bettencourt, Registrar of Voters Elizabeth Santangelo, Planning and Zoning member Rich Pelletier, and Chief Health Sanitarian
Sal Nesci, who also co-chairs Middletown's Democratic Town Committee with Samolis. In addition, Amy Vaillancourt, an environmental professional for Tighe & Bond (a city vendor), praised Samolis's detailed approach to work.
Guy Russo, former Water and Sewer director for the city, and now Director of Water Infrastructure at one of the city's biggest vendors, Prime AE, spoke about Samolis' deep involvement in planning projects since his arrival in city hall.
"Joe has been at every development meeting I've attended," Russo said.
Among those not from City Hall who praised Samolis were local business owner Phil Oulette (Eli Cannons) who commended Samolis as a straight shooter with a can-do attitude.
|Chamber president Larry McHugh.|
Gene Thazhampallath, director of the Parking Department, and president of the managers and supervisors union in the city acknowledged that the hiring had been considered and approved by the union. He also praised Samolis' integrity.
"When you put competency and care for the community together, that's a powerful force ," Thazhampallath said.
Several spoke in opposition to the the changes in the job description, and the immediate hiring of Samolis. Though, of those who spoke, many praised Samolis' character.
Several cited flaws in the process of creating a new job description which did not give the public assurances that the best candidate was being selected for the job. (Full disclosure: this author spoke against what he sees as a flawed process.)
Sheila Stoane who has spent 28 years on city commissions, including the Riverfront Commission, said that her experience made her "well-informed about the need to have a qualified, experienced planner."
Jennifer Mahr, representing the Westfield Residents Association condemned the process which altered a job description to fit a candidates qualifications, and then failed to repost the job to ensure that the best candidate was selected.
"The entire process that got us to this point is the opposite of good government," Maher said. "Don't make a short-sighted choice based on political convenience."
Planning and Zoning Chair Stephen Devoto (who is also a writer for the Middletown Eye), pleaded for the Common Council to do what was best for planning in the city.
"I urge you to look forward to ask what's best for our city," Devoto said. "When we don't have a professional planner, we don't have a sound basis to make our decisions."
"If you took your child to a surgeon, would you want him to have certification?" asked Brooks Road resident Shelly Morrow. "I know Joe, and he's terrific, but I've also worked with a lot of people who were unqualified to do their job."
|Kate Miller addresses the Council.|
Miller also expressed fear of a chilling effect, citing at least six individuals who wanted to speak about the hiring process but feared to do so because they had projects in various phases on desks in city hall.
The Council performed a perfunctory "interview" with Samolis, taking the time to praise him lavishly as a Middletown native with passion for the city.
Several of the Council members downplayed the importance of certification, and emphasized the need to have a good manager and leader.
"I'm always skeptical of certification and prequalifications," said council member Grady Faulkner. "I see them as hurdles."
"For me it's simple," council member Joe Serra said. "Of course it's about the job description, but it comes back to Joe."
"To me, leadership is paramount," Council member Gene Nocera said. "Credentials are important but leadership is essential."
In speaking for himself during the interview portion, Samolis indicated that he was eager to be named as full-time director, and that he had already spent hours educating himself on planning and development issues. He also vowed to achieve certification through on-line course work and classes at CCSU.
"I love Middletown. I grew up in Middletown," Samolis said. "I am involved. Whatever I can do to assist this city, I intend to do."
Those council members opposing the changes in the job description, and the immediate hiring of Samolis, also praised Samolis but condemned the process.
"One of the most shocking things to hear about tonight was someone in the GCC (General Counsel Commission) talking about having knowledge of this job description six months ago," said council member Deb Kleckowski, indicating that discussion of a job description re-write was taking place even as the original job search was underway.
"We should be voting on a job description tonight," Council member Mary Bartolotta said. "Then going back to the GCC, vetting the candidate, and voting on the candidate at the next council meeting."
Council member Seb Giuliano dismissed public dismay with the process as a failure to communicate and expressed that he hoped the council had learned something in the process and would do a better job the next time. He also indicated that the city charter gave the mayor's opinion priority in the decision about director.
"The one person who has to be satisfied with the candidate put before the Common Council is the mayor," Giuliano said. "That's what's in the charter."