Monday, April 3, 2017

Common Council Adjusts Planning Director Job Description and Appoints Samolis as Director

Joe Samolis being interviewed by the Common
UPDATE:  Monday, the Common Council appointed Joe Samolis as the new director of Planning Conservation and Development after first rewriting the job description for that position.

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.
"I'm in strong, strong support of Joe Samolis," Middlesex Chamber president Larry McHugh said. "Its no magic why Middletown is better than any other place in the state.  It's because business and the city get together.  You need somebody who can run this department the way is should be done."

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.
"Joe is top notch," said Kate Miller, a science instructor at Middlesex Community College, and volunteer on city boards. "But I think it's essential for government to be transparent.  I urge you to post the new job description and do a nationwide search and ensure that the best person for the new job description is hired."

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."


Anonymous said...

I love this story about a man pursuing his dream without having to do the hard work of getting the required degree, license, certification or experience.

This motivates me to pursue my own dream to be a brain surgeon without getting that tedious medical degree, residency,internship and years of specialized training. Perhaps someone in Middletown will volunteer to be my first patient?

We are all now volunteers in the Mayor's experiment in NOT having a professional planner in the cities Planning and Zoning office.

Mike Maier said...

So what is the point in having qualifications? At the very least, this seems to set a bad precedent- even if Joe turns out to be an excellent Director.
Mike Maier

Anonymous said...

A complete farce. If I were Joe Samolis I would be embarrassed that such a perverse manipulation of the process was was how I got the job. How does he have any credibility? What will he do when he has questions he does not know the answers to for lack of qualifications - Google for them? Thanks Middletown Common Council!!

Anonymous said...

Holy crap! You know what? I'm a democrat. However, I will not be voting for any of these democrats on the Common Council next election. This is total BS.

Anonymous said...

NOW FOR SOME REALITY PEOPLE. We brought mountains of evidence to the previous P&Z leaders who HAD certification. THEY DID NOTHING......for a YEAR. Watch the town videos for an education....EXACTLY one year ago we began.
We live in Middletown.Three businesses decided to take over the area near our homes over a 10 year period...One of them did so on residential land.We complained for over 7 years !!!! They were finally given three CEASE and Desist notices. The other wasn't in compliance with a site plan and made the street a complete eye sore devaluing the property in the area.STILL ONGOING- The other has had major environmental investigations and continues to operate on residential property near RT9. NO ONE DID ANYTHING !!! Until Joe came to us when he became the acting director....Now the ball is rolling finally.... So all of you that are "worrying" about the future.....UNTIL YOU ARE "IN IT" WITH A SITUATION THAT REQUIRES HELP FROM THE CITY.....A piece of paper hanging on the wall means NOTHING. The person who is willing to help you and stick their neck out to do just that against the old school "INSIDE dealers" here in Middletown which believe you me, is VERY active.... is the one you will want....... We are dealing with this...So until you have been "IN IT". move along............. GOOD LUCK JOE !!!!

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anon 4:42:

I can understand your frustration and horror as a commercial company encroaches on your neighborhood. And I'm glad Joe is helping you. I hope he can have some effect. But I don't think you can place all your blame (though some is deserved), on a certified planner. The town has a mayor, Common Council and Zoning Enforcement Officer, and had one in place during those 7 years of your complaint. In fact the current mayor, and his "Chief of Staff" were there for six of those years. What were they doing? The city, and the Planning and Zoning Commission need the advice of a certified planner on all the development issues it makes. For now, they don't have that.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:42

I am concerned that you may be describing my neighborhood. Might you be more specific? Thanks!