CLAREMONT — The newly sworn in Claremont City Council debuted on Wednesday with a new city manager at the helm, a new mayor and deputy mayor and some new ideas for how to move the city forward in 2022 and the future.
John MacLean sets his prioritiesActing City Manager John MacLean, in his second term as Claremont City Manager, told council he fully intends to resume discussion of the city’s employee compensation system, an issue which MacLean championed when he was city manager in 2019.
“Your employees are your greatest asset,” MacLean told the board. “Yes, you are the decision makers and guides in everything we do. . . but your employees have held on for years.
The city’s current organizational capacity “is probably at an all-time low,” MacLean said. Turnover in city departments remains high at a time when many of the city’s most senior employees and department heads are retiring.
“Do you remember the term ‘next player’ in football and other organized sports?” MacLean said. “We don’t have a next person. We don’t have a succession plan that I can really put my finger on.
MacLean said he will develop a city succession plan with his trustees over the next few weeks to present to city council. While compensation will be a central part of this plan, MacLean said the plan will also address career development incentives to help retain valuable employees for the long term.
During his previous tenure, MacLean had championed the issue of reforming the city’s merit plan system, whose pay scales have dropped dramatically from the regional market rate. Ed Morris, who replaced MacLean as Claremont’s permanent city manager in 2019, also addressed the issue of the merit plan, although efforts to pursue a major spending plan have stalled at city council.
MacLean indicated that the discussion on the merit plan must continue.
“It comes down to being competitive in the marketplace, attracting new people, and being fair,” MacLean said.
In additional administrative rulings, MacLean officially named Police Chief Mark Chase the “Deputy City Manager”, to serve the city in the absence of MacLean, who is hired by Claremont on a part-time basis.
Chase previously held the position in 2019 following the dismissal of former city manager Ryan McNutt, although Chase did not receive additional compensation, councilors said.
MacLean said Chase would receive a 10% stipend for his extra duties.
MacLean also said he intended to compensate Fire Chief Bryan Burr with a 10% stipend for his operational duties at Claremont Airport.
“He’s working there millions of dollars in grants and activities and his salary hasn’t been commensurate for years,” MacLean said.
The Council must reconsider the major rule of the CharterIn an effort to make it easier for the city to hire a new city manager, city councilors say they want to scrap a longstanding rule that the city manager must live in Claremont, saying the rule may be too unreasonable due to the current real estate market.
“There is a housing shortage,” Mayor Dale Girard said. “[While] we need a city manager who is willing to put his heart and soul into the community, that doesn’t always mean he has to put his head on a pillow in the community.
Deputy Mayor Deborah Matteau agreed, saying that while she would prefer the city manager was also a city resident, she is unwilling to eliminate an otherwise ideal candidate on the issue.
“If we find someone who is awesome but lives in a nearby community with kids in another school district, where it’s just not possible to move, I would hate to lose a great person who could do that job” , Matteau said.
City councilors also questioned whether these residency requirements were even legal.
MacLean said residency clauses have already been successfully challenged in New Hampshire, though those examples involved other types of employees. He is not aware of an example involving a city manager, but would research the matter.
Because this residency clause is contained in the city’s charter, the charter will need to be amended, Girard said.
MacLean said he was working with City Clerk Gwen Melcher to research the legal requirements and create a timeline for the necessary proceedings.
Any changes to the city charter will require a public vote. The question could be placed on the municipal ballot or on a special ballot.
Some councilors have suggested the council could also consider additional charter changes, although councilor Jon Stone strongly advised against going beyond the residency issue.
“Making a full charter change would be a massive undertaking that I don’t think any of us would want to support at this time,” Stone said.