COMMENTARY: The following is an opinion by the author of this post and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Middletown Eye, or any other Middletown Eye authors.
The Common Council meets tonight (Monday April 2, 7PM, Council Chambers) to consider two important resolutions that will have a lasting impact on what Middletown looks like in the decades ahead.
Those resolutions are:
- Approving the amendments to the Director of Planning, Conservation and
Development with UPSEU Salary Grade 20 ($40.96 - $60.62 per hour), 40 hours.
- Appointment of Planning, Conservation, and Development Director. Including an interview with the candidate, Mayor Dan Drew's Chief of Staff Joe Samolis, and the vote on his appointment and salary.
While Joe Samolis might be the strongest candidate for the job, the process by which he arrived as the only candidate leaves major questions, and sows doubt as to whether he actually is the best candidate.
The job of planning director has been open for six months, since October when the last director, Michiel Wackers left for another position. A search committee interviewed fifteen candidates, and did not find a single qualified interviewee, so the mayor (in what he has called a bid to be "transparent") proposed a plan which would allow the hiring of his chief of staff - a political appointee. That plan includes altering the job description, eliminating a further search, and submitting Samolis as the lone candidate.
Here are ten good reasons why the process for hiring the new director looks bad, and is bad.
1. Joe Samolis was on the committee that interviewed the initial candidates. That committee gave advice to the mayor before the mayor decided against hiring any of the qualified applicants. This raises questions as to whether Samolis' involvement in hiring discussions provided him with an unfair advantage as a candidate.
2. The mayor has paved the way for his Chief of Staff to get the job by altering the original job description (Director of Planning, Conservation and Development) by simply crossing out a set of essential requirements: "Bachelor's Degree in City, Urban or Regional Planning, Public Administration, Economics or a related field with Master's -level coursework in the field - Master's degree preferred - with five years of urban planning/conservation/development experience or any combination of education and experience that provides equivalent knowledge, skills and abilities. Position requires certification as Planner by the American Institute of Certified Planners..." Samolis does not possess the required educational degree or certification to meet the standards of the original job description.
3. The new job description requires the new Director to acquire his certification within five years, but there is no mechanism built into the description to guarantee the director will achieve accreditation. Tying salary to credentials would solve that problem. Start the new director at the lowest salary level for an employee at this job position level.
4. The mayor has promised that because the new director will not have the degree, certification or experience to act as a town planner, that a new job description for town planner will be created, and funds set aside in the new budget to hire this director. However, while the evening's agenda includes the altering of the Director's job description, and the potential hiring of Samolis, the current agenda does not include a resolution to approve a job description for a town planner, or the funds needed to hire the manager.
5. When a job description is altered to lower requirements for an opening, the description is normally re-posted to allow for additional candidates to apply. This was not the case for the re-written description. The job, as described in the new description, has not been openly posted for applicants either within or outside of the city.
6. The candidate for the job is the vice chair of the Democratic town committee, and has his current job as a political appointee by the Democratic mayor. If he is hired in a vote dominated by Democratic council members, and colleagues in the Democratic Town Committee, then there is a concern that the job was filled for political reasons, and not reasons of qualifications.
7. Joe Samolis has not declared in a public meeting that his career aspirations are to become a Town Planner. Perhaps Samolis will declare his career goals in his interview with the Common Council this evening.
8. The process has been strongly and publicly opposed by the chairman of the town's Planning and Zoning Commission.
9. No member of the Planning and Zoning commission was part of the original hiring committee. In fact, a request was made to include a Planning and Zoning member, but that request was denied. However, once the decision was made to change the job description, and hire Samolis, the chairman of the Planning and Zoning was heavily lobbied to support the decision.
10. A precedent will be set. Done correctly, the hiring process can be cited in the future as the way any mayor and council should approach filling important city positions. Done incorrectly and any future hiring will be able to be accomplished by dumbing-down a job description to match the qualifications of favored candidate.