EASTPORT, Maine — The Washington County seaside community of Eastport is in the market for a new city manager.
Jon Southern recently informed the city council in an executive session that he’ll be stepping down from the position when his current contract expires on April 26, 2013. Southern, 39, has been Eastport’s city manager since April 2010.
“I’m burned out,” Southern said Tuesday. “The average ‘life expectancy’ of a city manager in the state of Maine is 18 months, and I made it clear when I was hired that I wasn’t going to make a career of it. I’ll be turning 40 in February, and I figured that’s a good turning point. After this job ends, I desperately need to take some time off, and I am looking forward to new challenges.”
Southern previously worked as a defense contractor and a management consultant. He’s uncertain where he’ll next hang his professional hat.
“I fix things,” he said. “I do projects, and I fix things. Eastport is a small community with a huge infrastructure, including an airport, a deep-water port, the downtown, the breakwater and quite a large network of streets and roads. It’s not easy to manage this quite sizeable infrastructure on a small-town budget.”
During his tenure, Southern was instrumental in attracting grants collectively totaling more than $2 million, including a $1.2 million grant for an upgrade of the city’s wastewater treatment system.
“We were able to get a $300,000 grant for the fire station, $150,000 for the overlook park project and almost $1 million in grants for improvements at the airport,” he said. “There have been many other grants, and the city is well on its way in recovering from the $1 million deficit that I inherited.”
Southern said in 2010 he could count on one hand the number of businesses in the city’s downtown. Eastport’s 19th century rows of commercial buildings now make up a national historic district, and Water Street storefronts are nearing full occupancy, he said. He has also seen expansion of existing businesses, including a doubling of the size of the IGA grocery store and growth in the operations of Ocean Renewable Power Co., which fabricates underwater electrical turbines in Eastport.
“We’re also seeing development at the Boat School, which we were finally able to get off the taxpayers’ backs,” he said. “Eastport certainly has a long way to go, but I think the priority now should be working to get taxes down.”
“I see Eastport now as being at the top of a roller coaster,” Southern said. “It can roll backwards, or keep on going. I think there’s enough momentum to continue on.”
Southern’s annual salary is $55,000, which he says “isn’t nearly enough for the responsibility, hours and stress” that comes with the territory. He expects the city council will formally advertise the position in February, recruit candidates in March and have his replacement selected before he departs in late April.
“Hopefully I can work at least a few weeks with the new manager,” Southern said Tuesday. “When I came I had no interaction with the previous manager. I’m coming in one door and he’s out the other. I spent probably the first year just figuring things out.”
Eastport City Council President Bob Peacock said Tuesday he was saddened to hear of Southern’s decision and described Southern’s tenure with a litany of superlatives.
“I am so pleased with what’s been accomplished in the last three years, and a big part of it has been Jon,” Peacock said. “I’ve been very, very pleased with the work he’s done, and the amount of grants that have come in has been phenomenal. This was his first job as a city manager, and he had a lot to learn, but the proof is in the pudding.”