BANGOR, Maine — City councilors, citing a desire for change and a new vision for the city, have reached an agreement with longtime City Manager Ed Barrett for him to retire by April 30, 2010.
The announcement was made Tuesday, one day after councilors met in executive session with Barrett to discuss the position he has held for 22 years. He had been under contract through September 2011.
Barrett declined to offer an opinion on the sudden decision, but he did admit that this was not how he envisioned ending his tenure in Bangor. At 62, Barrett said he doesn’t know if he’ll retire for good or look for employment elsewhere. On Tuesday, he looked ahead only to his next municipal meeting.
“I’m meeting with some students and then there is a government operations committee meeting at 5,” he said from his office.
Some councilors indicated privately that the process of dismissing Barrett might not have been handled in the best way, particularly in announcing that councilors were looking for a change. Said one: “The biggest debate was how to do this. It seems like he should have gone out on his own terms.”
The same councilor then called Barrett a gentleman for the way he handled the council’s decision.
The rules of executive session prevented councilors from speaking more candidly about the process. Publicly, everyone involved said nice things Tuesday.
“Mr. Barrett’s commitment to fiscal creativity and efficiency, his legendary writing and documentation skills, plus his hard work and integrity have served Bangor extremely well,” City Council Chairman Gerry Palmer said. “His responses to constituent issues have been focused, friendly, and patient, without exception.”
“He’s a brilliant manager,” Councilor Hal Wheeler said. “This was an amicable agreement. He has served at the highest level of competence. We’re sorry to part company, but both sides feel this is the right time.”
Barrett has agreed to stay on until a successor is found, perhaps as long as six months. Councilor David Nealley said the council’s decision reflected responsible management succession planning by the city and said having Barrett stay through the transition allows the city to take advantage of his considerable institutional knowl-edge.
With all the praise, it raises the question: What are city councilors looking for that Barrett didn’t provide? Palmer and others didn’t offer much in the way of specifics.
“We’re not unhappy or unpleased with Ed; we’re just going in a different direction,” Palmer said.
Councilor Pat Blanchette agreed.
“To the best of my knowledge, there is not a formalized plan of the next step we want to take,” she said. “We know the direction, but we’re still working on the specifics.”
Barrett oversees all aspects of municipal government, including more than 800 employees, but his decisions are guided by nine city councilors elected by the citizens of Bangor. Every year, the makeup of the council can, and often does, change, which has translated to dozens of voices whispering in Barrett’s ear over the last two decades. Like councilors, though, Barrett spoke only in positive tones.
“It has been both an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of Bangor over the past 22 years and to work with elected officials who have consistently made every effort to do what is best for our community,” Barrett said during a press conference attended by numerous city staff members and councilors. “I am proud of our ac-complishments over this time, and I look forward to adding to them over my remaining time in office.”
Barrett was hired in March 1988, replacing outgoing manager John Flynn. His contract has been renewed periodically by various city councils, most recently through September 2011. His last reported salary was $112,617. Details of the retirement agreement obtained Tuesday by the Bangor Daily News show that Barrett will be paid an extra six months salary and will receive 18 months of paid health insurance coverage once his retirement begins.
He almost was forced out of Bangor in 1996 when then Mayor Marshall Frankel called for the termination of the manager’s contract. Other councilors disagreed and Barrett stayed put. That same year, Barrett also was a finalist for the city manager job in Concord, N.H., but was not selected for the post.
He is believed to be among the longest tenured city managers in Maine and perhaps New England. Michael Starn with the Maine Municipal Association said the average tenure of a municipal manager in Maine is about 5 to 7 years, but he also said it’s much less likely for a manager in a larger community to stay such a long time.
Barrett leaves at a crucial time for the city. Plans for a new multimillion-dollar arena and civic center are still in limbo, as is Bangor’s overhaul of its waterfront area.
Several municipal department heads have tenures that rival Barrett’s, including economic development director Rod McKay, city engineer Jim Ring, code enforcement officer Dan Wellington and city solicitor Norm Heitmann.
“We’re not a young workforce here,” Barrett said. “I think there are some who are concerned or nervous about what might happen, but that’s the case with any type of change.”