AUBURN, Maine — A new city manager job performance process has caused as much controversy among city councilors as have opinions of Glenn Aho’s performance.
Councilors have been working on Aho’s performance review in executive sessions after regular meetings since March 21, sequestering themselves in a back meeting room behind the council chambers.
The closed-door meetings have been contentious at times and councilors admit there has been shouting. Some councilors have been reluctant to go into the meetings, while others have left early.
Councilor Ray Berube left Monday’s executive session after about 30 minutes, collected his coat and other items and left the meeting hall for the night, refusing to comment on his way out the door.
All councilors have declined to comment on the executive sessions, saying that personnel matters must be kept confidential. But Berube was clearly frustrated by the discussions after Monday’s meeting.
“We have a very divided council,” Berube said Tuesday. “We have a group of people who refuse to act and do anything.”
Councilor Dan Herrick left the closed-door meeting as well, taking his seat at the front of the Auburn council chambers.
“But that’s the nice thing about democracy — there are emotions,” Mayor Dick Gleason said Wednesday. “As far as yelling or coming and going, that’s just democracy. People have disagreements. I wish they would stay in the the room when they do disagree, but it is democracy.”
Gleason said he and some councilors were not satisfied with the process used in the past to review the city manager’s job performance.
“In the past, the manager himself or herself has always administered the process,” Gleason said. “That’s not the way it’s normally been done in other communities I’m familiar with. In the new process, I am the administrator and the councilors are doing the reviewing. We are looking at three things: giving feedback on how things are being run; giving goals or things we’d like to see; and making a recommendation as to whether a raise is in order and we want to extend the contract by another year.”
Aho has had a three-year contract since he came to the city in 2008 after serving as town manager in Lincoln. Councilors have the option each year of extending his contract by an additional year.
Gleason said councilors were close to finishing their work and would be discussing their decisions soon.
Councilor Belinda Gerry said she liked the process but not all of the questions.
“Some of the questions were a little loopier to start with,” Gerry said. One question asked how the city was performing in general, not how Aho performed specifically.
“But once we got those worked out, we have a better process than we did before,” she said.
Councilor Mike Farrell disagreed, saying the old process worked just fine.
“It was something simple, and it worked,” Farrell said. “The mayor had to go to the Maine Municipal Association for help drawing something up and it’s still not over.”
Farrell was reluctant to go into the executive session at Monday’s meeting, chatting with constituents for several minutes before going in.
“I have withdrawn from the process,” he said. “There is no process that we can review. There is nothing written down. It all lives in the mayor’s head.”
Farrell said he was very pleased with Aho’s work and with the managerial reforms he had started.
“I’m proud of the employees we have right now,” Farrell said. “They are making changes, bringing modern-day executive process to the city.”
City Councilor David Young agreed, saying Aho has done a good job working with a divided council.
“There are seven people on the council, and at any given time there are seven different opinions,” he said. “The manager has to have consensus to do anything. And it doesn’t help when some councilors object to something, but they just sit on their hands until the very end. If you don’t say anything, he can’t do anything. He can’t answer an objection that has been left unasked.”
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