Cole­man one step closer

Coun­cil votes to start ne­go­ti­a­tions for city man­ager job

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­[email protected]­pub.com

Tom Cole­man is one step closer to be­com­ing Ne­wark’s city man­ager.

City coun­cil on Tues­day voted 5-2 to en­ter into con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions with Cole­man, who has served as act­ing city man­ager since May 2017.

“It’s the best de­ci­sion for the city,” Coun­cil­woman Jen Wal­lace said.

“Over­whelm­ingly, I’ve heard from con­stituents who are in fa­vor of mov­ing for­ward with Tom.”

Tues­day’s vote was the lat­est step in the lengthy process of re­plac­ing former city man­ager Carol Houck, but it did not come with­out con­tro­versy.

After 45 min­utes of closed-door de­lib­er­a­tions, coun­cil emerged for a tense vote.

Coun­cil­man Chris Hamil­ton re­peated his pre­vi­ous ar­gu­ment that coun­cil should do an­other na­tion­wide search. An ear­lier search turned up two fi­nal­ists, both of whom were re­jected by coun­cil in July. When coun­cil mem­bers voted to re­open the search process last month, they opened it only to Cole­man.

“Tom may be the best thing, but we don’t know that. We don’t know who else is out there,” Hamil­ton said. “It’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to cast as wide a net as pos­si­ble.”

He said coun­cil “mucked up” the first search by go­ing against the rec­om­men­da­tions of the city’s con­sul­tant and putting pa­ram­e­ters on the search, though he de­clined to elab­o­rate be­cause the dis­cus­sions were held in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion.

Hamil­ton was joined in op­po­si­tion by Coun­cil­man Mark More­head.

More­head said his vote shouldn’t be seen as a vote against Cole­man but rather a vote in fa­vor of a broader search, one that could in­clude Cole­man as a can­di­date.

“If he were to rise to the top of a broader pool, I wouldn’t be sur­prised,” More­head said.

Coun­cil will now en­gage in con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions with Cole­man and is ex­pected to dis­cuss the con­tract Dec. 10.

As act­ing city man­ager, Cole­man earns $153,191 per year, slightly more than Houck was earn­ing. He also re­ceived a $10,000 bonus in Au­gust.

Cole­man ini­tially did not ap­ply for the per­ma­nent job but had a change of heart after coun­cil re­jected both of the fi­nal­ists in July.

“At the time, I didn’t think it was some­thing I would be in­ter­ested in long-term, but over the last 18 months, I’ve had an op­por­tu­nity to work with even more em­ploy­ees here at the city, over in the po­lice depart­ment, the elec­tric depart­ment and the plan­ning and devel­op­ment folks,” Cole­man ex­plained Mon­day night. “You get an at­tach­ment to the pro­jects and get in­vested in their suc­cess. I want to stay on and give it my best to make sure all those pro­jects are suc­cess­ful.”

Cole­man makes his case for earn­ing the job

When coun­cil opened the search process to Cole­man, it de­cided to re­quire him to go through much of the same in­ter­view process as pre­vi­ous fi­nal­ists went through this sum­mer, in­clud­ing a pub­lic ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion and a pre­sen­ta­tion to depart­ment heads.

In a 25-minute pub­lic meet­ing Mon­day, Cole­man an­swered ques­tions writ­ten by city coun­cil and asked by a con­sul­tant flown in from Illi­nois. The ap­prox­i­mately 20 peo­ple who at­tended – about half of whom were city em­ploy­ees – could watch but were not per­mit­ted to ask ques­tions or make com­ments.

Res­i­dents had just 16 hours after the end of the meet­ing to sub­mit writ­ten feed­back for city coun­cil’s con­sid­er­a­tion.

Cole­man said dur­ing the meet­ing that he never en­vi­sioned a ca­reer in pub­lic ser­vice but was un­sat­is­fied after sev­eral years in the pri­vate sec­tor.

“There was some­thing miss­ing,” the 2004 Univer­sity of Delaware grad­u­ate said. “It didn’t feel as re­ward­ing as I ex­pected.”

Cole­man joined the city in May 2011 as as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of wa­ter and waste­water. In 2012, the Pub­lic Works and Wa­ter Re­sources Depart­ment was formed, and he served as deputy di­rec­tor for two years be­fore be­ing pro­moted to depart­ment di­rec­tor in March 2014.

Cole­man said the most im­por­tant job for the city man­ager is to pro­vide city coun­cil with ac­cu­rate, com­plete in­for­ma­tion to make de­ci­sions.

“As soon as staff gets in a po­si­tion where peo­ple start to think they’re not pro­vid­ing the whole pic­ture and only pro­vid­ing the parts of the data that sup­port their ob­jec­tive, that means you’ve lost the pub­lic’s sup­port and trust, and it will be very hard to get that back,” he said. “One thing I’ve tried to fo­cus on is pro­vid­ing good data and pro­vid­ing my thought process be­hind a de­ci­sion.”

Cole­man calls for ‘smart devel­op­ment’

Cole­man’s pre­sen­ta­tion to depart­ment heads was closed to the pub­lic, but the city re­leased video of part of it. Dur­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion, he said the city’s big­gest chal­lenge is the growth of the Univer­sity of Delaware and its abrupt de­ci­sion to close the Chris­tiana Tow­ers, which will elim­i­nate 1,300 beds for stu­dents.

“If we don’t work with the univer­sity and our pri­vate de­vel­op­ers to pro­vide hous­ing for these stu­dents, they’re go­ing to flood into our neigh­bor­hoods, dis­place res­i­dents, drive up com­pe­ti­tion for those homes or, worse yet, move out­side the city and com­mute by car be­cause they won’t be able to walk, bike or take a bus to cam­pus. That’s go­ing to worsen our traf­fic prob­lem, which I think most peo­ple will agree is al­ready pretty bad,” he said.

He said the city needs to fo­cus on “smart devel­op­ment” that gives the city a re­turn on its in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment and “make it easy for de­vel­op­ers to come in and de­velop where we want them to de­velop, as long as they build want we want in those ar­eas.”

He noted the city’s plan­ning com­mis­sion is work­ing on a pro­posal to up­zone the area around Haines, Benny and South Chapel streets to al­low higher den­sity devel­op­ment in an area where stu­dent hous­ing is al­ready preva­lent.

“If we can pro­vide [UD] the hous­ing they need for their stu­dents close to cam­pus, where kids can walk, bike and get on a UD bus to get to cam­pus, that will be a good thing for the city,” Cole­man said. “We’ll have more res­i­dents, more peo­ple to share that in­fra­struc­ture cost bur­den across, and it will help pre­vent them from mov­ing into our neigh­bor­hoods, crowd­ing out res­i­dents and neg­a­tively im­pact­ing the life­styles of our cur­rent res­i­dents.”

He called UD’s STAR Cam­pus the best op­por­tu­nity fac­ing any city in Delaware, but noted it also presents chal­lenges. He said he plans to hold a pub­lic meet­ing to dis­cuss what the com­mu­nity wants to see there and then work with coun­cil to de­velop a list of rec­om­men­da­tions to pro­vide to UD of­fi­cials.

“We need to make sure that any­thing that gets built down there is com­ple­men­tary to the city and not in com­pe­ti­tion,” he said. “I know peo­ple have ex­pressed some con­cerns that we’re go­ing to have, ba­si­cally, two main streets, one down­town and one on STAR Cam­pus.”

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

Act­ing City Man­ager Tom Cole­man talks about his in­ter­est in tak­ing on the role per­ma­nently dur­ing a pub­lic meet­ing on Mon­day.

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