EASTPORT, Maine — With just four weeks on the job, Eastport’s new town manager — a rookie in municipal government — has a barren office. No personal photos grace the walls and only a small stuffed moose sits on a bookshelf.
Instead, nearly every surface is covered with work items: papers, brochures, reports, business plans. The work area reflects Jon Southern’s attitude about government: run it like a business.
“I take the first and immediate position that we need to start running Eastport like a business,” Southern said Friday. “We need the discipline of the corporate world and its accountability.”
Southern said he intends to bring corporate America’s efficiencies into city government. After all, he contends, they are pretty much the same.
“We both have complex problems, an infrastructure to maintain, technical problems, legal issues,” he said. The key difference, he added, “is who you answer to. Every member of this community is my customer.”
Southern said he is keenly aware that some Eastport residents go without heat to pay their taxes — the city has a whopping 96 percent rate of paid taxes. “I must be mindful that every dollar counts,” he said.
So far, in his first month on the job, Southern said he has been knee-deep in negatives.
“I’ve focused first on the city’s problems and what needs to be fixed,” he said. “It has been good work and challenging.”
Southern said some of the challenges include decreasing revenues, an aging infrastructure — the fire station is on the verge of collapse — the sewer treatment plant is not operating efficiently, the Police Department is outdated and using two cruisers that both have more than 200,000 miles, and budget constraints caused the layoff of a police officer and a public works employee.
He said that while the picture looks grim at times, Eastport is in better shape than many small cities, a quality he attributes to the “strength of her people.”
Southern said Eastport is an extremely diverse city which is quickly becoming an art destination, which has a vibrant summer population and excellent businesses and downtown restaurants.
“But we are never going to rebuild Eastport as a tourist or retirement community,” Southern said. “We need to retain the school to attract industry. We need to create a plan to work together.”
With tidal energy companies knocking on Eastport’s door, Southern said that it is important for community members to think outside the box.
“I am asking the people to think of all the possible opportunities with an open mind,” he said. “I’m being as open as I can be, asking the people of this city to step up and rebuild their own city.”