2017-01-20 / Community

South Portland names manager finalists

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — After a forced doover when its top pick declined the job, South Portland has again narrowed its search for a city manager down to two finalists.

On Tuesday, the city issued a press release saying the job will go to either Gardner City Manager Scott Morelli or former Berwick Town Manager Patrick Venne.

Both candidates and their spouses will be in South Portland on Wednesday, Jan. 25 for an informal meet-and-greet with the public. That hour-long reception will kick off at 6:30 p.m. in the senior wing of the South Portland Community Center. Then on Thursday, Jan. 26, the search process will conclude with sit-downs between the finalists and city department heads, as well as school superintendent Ken Kunin, followed by a second-round of interviews before the city council.

The council is expected to name which candidate will take the helm of city hall, and his starting date, sometime during the week of Jan. 30.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Morelli is a 1994 graduate of Bangor High School. He graduated from the University of Maine in 1999 with a degree in public management, later earning a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University, in New York.

Morelli began his public career in 2000 with a one-year stint as assistant to the Waterboro Board of Selectmen. After that he spent nearly thee years as crisis services coordinator at Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine. After earning his masters in public education, Morelli spent nearly five years working as executive assistant to the town manager in Framingham, Massachusetts, before landing the job of Gardner city manager in March 2010. Since 2007 he also has owned Morelli Image Creations, a company that specializes in transferring video tapes and photographs to digital formats. He lives in New Gloucester.

Venne’s LinkedIn history begins with his 2006 graduation from the University of Vermont, with a degree in political science. He went on to the University of Maine School of Law, passing the bar exam in 2010, and earned a master’s degree in community planning and development from the Muskie School of Public Service in 2011. He is currently working toward a professional certification in commercial real estate from Boston University.

Venne, who lives in Portland, was on the planning board there in 2012. Starting in October 2011, he logged 13 months as a planning assistant for the city of Auburn, jumping to director of planning for Berwick until 2013, when he became town manager, a job he held until 2015. From 2010 to 2014 Venne also worked as an attorney for California-based Mossler Law Firm, handling Maine clients for national consumer protection firms. Since December 2014 he has been a Maine-based project executive for Federated Companies, a national real estate investment group, with offices in Boston and Miami. Since November 2010, Venne also has worked as a private attorney and run Redwood Development Consulting.

The search for a new South Portland manager was precipitated by the June resignation of longtime city manager Jim Gailey, who took a $17,000 cut in pay, from $123,000 to become assistant manager of Cumberland County.

In July, the council hired former Brunswick town manager Don Gerrish to serve as interim manager, at a rate of $650 per day, for three days per week. The council also contracted with Eaton Peabody, a consulting firm for which Gerrish works, to conduct the search for Gailey’s replacement, paying $9,500 for the service.

Eaton Peabody’s search netted 23 applicants, from which the council selected Utah-resident Edward Collins, originally of Bangor, who had recently inherited a house in South Portland. However, less than 38 hours after then-mayor Tom Blake announced the council pick, Collins dashed of an email declining the offer. Garrish later said that while Collins had not yet signed a contract with the city, he had verbally agreed to it and accepted the job, with only a start date to be decided. He would have been paid $115,000 per year, plus benefits and a vehicle allowance.

Collins was non-specific about why he refused the job, writing only that, “After careful consideration of the entirety of my experiences in the selection process . . . it is clear to me that I am not the right person for the job at this time.”

In the do-over that resulted, the council decided its requirement that the new manager reside in South Portland may have acted as a deterrent on resumes. Of the 23 people who did apply, only two were said to be from Maine, and it was presumed potential applicants from greater Portland had shied away from the post, not wanting to sell a home within driving distance of South Portland City Hall.

For the second search, the residency requirement was edited to say a willingness to relocate to South Portland was “desirable, but not mandatory.”

According to Gerrish, 33 people applied for the job on the second go-round, with nearly a third listing Maine addresses. Eaton Peabody culled that to what it believed were the 10 best candidates, Gerrish said, and the city council selected six to interviews, ultimately winnowing the field to Morelli and Venne.

Venne has most recently been involved in large-scale real estate development on Munjoy Hill in Portland, which prompted public outcry over the potential loss of views, according to the Portland Press Herald. Meanwhile, the Central Maine Morning Sentinel reported in May of last year on “angry outbursts and accusations” at a Gardner budget meeting that prompted Morelli to later apologize for his role in confronting a former councilor.

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