Both finalists for the post of city manager in South Portland have a strong background in municipal management, and both have experienced some high-profile struggles in the communities they previously served.
On Wednesday, Nov. 2, the community will have the opportunity to meet, mix and mingle with the two candidates for the city’s top job: Edward Collins, a Maine native now living and working in Utah, and James “Ty” Ross, from Georgia.
It’s likely that one of the two will replace Jim Gailey, who resigned this summer to take the job of assistant manager for Cumberland County. He had been city manager since 2007, and his annual salary was $121,000.
Mayor Tom Blake said this week that Collins and Ross were culled from an applicant pool of 23 candidates, which was then narrowed to nine for the City Council to consider. The council then narrowed that list even further, choosing five to interview.
From those interviews, Collins and Ross were chosen as the finalists, Blake said. They were “the best overall picks to go to the next step,” he said, and both have qualities the council is looking for, such as strong leadership and good interpersonal skills.
Blake said the public meet-and-greet with the two finalists next week would be a key factor in helping the council decide who to make an offer to.
“You can tell a lot in an hour and a half,” he said. “Whoever we choose will be well vetted,” he added. “And if we can find the right candidate, we will move forward. If we’re not comfortable, then we will re-evaluate.”
Collins is a Maine native, growing up in Bangor. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from the University of Maine and a master’s in public administration from the University of Utah.
He’s currently a general manager for a civil engineering firm that specializes in transportation and other public infrastructure, but prior to that spent 10 years as the city administrator for Lehi, Utah.
His municipal background in Maine includes stints as town manager in both Lubec and Baileyville and a stint as the community development director for the city of Calais. In addition, Collins also served as the executive director of the Quoddy Region Job Opportunity Zone.
While Collins and his wife, a Skowhegan native, had no specific plans to return to Maine full time, they did purchase a home in South Portland earlier this year. When the city manager’s job became vacant, “it seemed like an opportunity to get back to my roots in local government and to get back home,” he said.
When asked what attracted him to the job, Collins said, “South Portland is a great community, and we’re looking forward to spending more time there.” In terms of his visit next week, he said, “I’m looking forward to the chance to meet more of the people who are taking care of South Portland.”
He also has “a few questions of my own and see the visit as a chance to ask them and have additional discussion with the council, city staff and residents. It’s important for South Portland, and for me, that the right choice is made. Spending a bit more time together will help us do that.”
According to an article in the Daily Herald from April 2006, Collins left his job as the city administrator for Lehi after getting caught in the middle of a power struggle between the mayor and City Council.
The article said the mayor had informed Collins he would not be reappointed to his post, but city councilors “were adamant (that) Collins was to stay.”
In the article, Collins was quoted as calling the council “firm supporters, but I think it’s clear that we can’t continue to operate on a long-term basis with that kind of basic disagreement over whether I’m appointed or not.”
The article said that during his time leading the city, Lehi grew from 10,000 to 40,000 residents and that Collins oversaw an addition to the city’s library, the building of a community center, a new senior center, a new literacy center, a new police station, a fire station addition, a large sports park, an expanded water system and the addition of several businesses.
“If you had access to the people I’ve worked with over the years,” Collins said this week, “I’m confident that you would get good reports from elected officials, employees at all levels, business leaders, citizens and neighbors.”
Ross is a native of Georgia and until mid-September was the city manager for Dalton, Georgia. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Georgia, he also has a master’s in business and a law degree.
He worked as an attorney for five years and was an assistant dean at Dalton State College until being hired as the city manager for Dalton in 2009.
An article in the Sept. 15 issue of the Daily Citizen of Dalton said that Ross had resigned “effective immediately” and neither Ross, nor Dalton Mayor Dennis Mock, would comment on the reasons for his sudden departure.
The article said that Ross played “a key role in the city’s green initiatives, such as the planned park at the Haig Mill reservoir and the biking and hiking trail on Mount Rachel.”
In addition, Mock was quoted as saying that Ross “was a real asset to the city. He was a workhorse, and he had a wealth of knowledge.”
The article also said that Ross was named as a finalist for the post of city manager of Statesboro, Georgia, this past June and was also a finalist for city manager of Cookeville, Tennesee, in 2015.
On his LinkedIn account, Ross said that during his time as the top administrator in Dalton he oversaw more than 300 employees and a budget of $30 million.
Among his key accomplishments, he said on LinkedIn, are “strengthened neighborhoods and enhanced vibrancy of downtown through creation and implementation of a 10-year strategic vision.”
He was also responsible for grants that helped pay for the creation of a Downtown Dalton Master Plan and a master pedestrian path and green space plan.
When asked why he applied for the city manager’s job in South Portland, Ross said, “as a fan of the various recreational and cultural amenities offered along the Maine coast I jumped at the opportunity to” lead the city.
“In short, if all goes well and I’m the right fit in the minds of the elected officials and the citizenry I hope to live the slogan – Maine, visit for week, stay for a lifetime.”
In terms of the opportunities and challenges the new city manager would face, Ross said, “I think (they) will (include) uniting stakeholders on shared goals related to the both the economy and the environment.” And, he said, “I have experience bringing diverse groups together around common goals.”
A closer look
The city of South Portland will host a meet-and greet with the two finalists for the city manager’s job, from 6-7:30 p.m., on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at the Community Center.
James “Ty” Ross