2014-07-03 / Front Page

Manager Hunt Begins

By Tom Walsh

Wasting little time reacting to City Manager Jane Howington’s decision to leave Newport for a similar post in Hudson, Ohio, the Newport City Council planned to gather in executive session on Wednesday night, July 2, to discuss finding her interim replacement.

Mayor Henry F. Winthrop said no votes were to take place at the executive session closed to the public. He said the council would consider the matter for the first time publicly at its Wednesday, July 9 meeting. Winthrop mentioned that he would like to see City Solicitor Joseph Nicholson Jr. in the interim manager’s role.

“I believe he’s done it before,” Winthrop said. Nicholson served as acting city manager from February, 2002 to November, 2002.

Ultimately, the council selects the new manager.

Winthrop believes the longest it should take to fill the manager’s position is early 2015. Asked whether he was interested in the position, Winthrop replied, “No. There are certain qualifications needed to run a city. Managerial experience is one of them. So, no, I’m not interested.”

Winthrop said he was not aware of anyone who had publicly expressed an interest in the manager’s position. He said the vacant position will have to be advertised.

With City Council elections in November, it is possible that a different council could decide upon the next city manager.

Howington, after two-and-ahalf years as manager, submitted her resignation to Winthrop on June 27. She gave four weeks’ notice of her departure and her last day on the job will be July 27. Meanwhile, City Hall was recently surprised to learn that veteran City Clerk Kathleen Silvia will retire effective Aug. 29.

Newport’s city clerk is appointed by the city manager. Winthrop said the interim clerk will be appointed by an interim city manager. “Someone will be put in charge until a new manager is appointed,” he said.

Meanwhile, a July 2 story of Howington’s prospective appointment in the Hudson, Ohio, Hub-Times reported Winthrop as saying that “Howington’s reason for resigning was ‘significant differences’ with two Council members." Further, the newspaper reported that Winthrop said, “I will assure you, it is not her— it was them. They rode her pretty hard and it got to the point that she could not take the harassment anymore."

Howington told Newport This Week that, “As I leave, I’m not going to pick on people. It’s no secret there were problems with getting the council together to work on expectations and work plans. But I’m not going to pinpoint one or another. There was friction, not necessarily with me, but among the council members.”

Asked about his comments in the Ohio newspaper, Winthrop said he did not say “two” council members, but rather “some” council members. Asked to elaborate, Winthrop said Councilor Michael Farley was one of those he was referring to. He would not name others.

“You don’t leave the city of Newport to go to an obscure city in Ohio unless there are compelling reasons,” Winthrop said. “Draw your own conclusions.”

He said he and Howington had discussed the situation. “Her concerns were about council support. I thought we had allayed those concerns but obviously it was not enough.”

Councilman Farley replied, “I don’t fault Jane. She and Harry [Mayor Winthrop] are joined at the hip and Harry’s done everything he could to knock me down a peg during my 18 months on the council. Harry can say whatever he wants to say. I wish her well.”

The situation raises an important issue going forward—what needs to be done to avoid a repeat of this situation?

“I don’t know how I would answer that,” Howington said. “Newport is a complex political environment. I could not come up with one piece of advice right now.”

Ciouncilor Kathryn E. Leonard said there have been discussions about the relationship between Howington and the City Council. Leonard characterized it as there being “seven council members and seven bosses” for the city manager. Leonard said the answer to achieving better relations with the next manager is for everyone to work together. “People who work together get a lot more done,” Leonard said. “When you are working with the public, it’s important to depersonalize things. If someone has an issue, what can we do to resolve it?”

Winthrop remarked, “We have not had that discussion as a group. I can’t regulate an individual’s behavior. Some of it is just common courtesy.”

He added, “Everyone on the council is elected independently. The residents of Newport have to get the council in line. If they like what’s going on, they return you. Most of us on the council know we have to interface. We have council rules. I just hope that the members follow the council’s rules.”

Howington did not seem inclined to dwell on the past. As she told the Hudson Hub-Times, “I fell in love with Hudson and its people the first time I visited. I have wanted to be back in Ohio where I have family, and Hudson is such a great community. I'm honored to become a part of this exciting city and look forward to working with council, the mayor and city staff as we move forward."

She said she will take away some fond memories from her time in Newport.

“This is an exceptional staff,” Howington said. “They get things done with limited resources and with a strong commitment to the community. They have accomplished some amazing things.”

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