2015-02-26 / Opinion

Do What’s Best for Newport


We don’t live in a perfect world. But that doesn’t mean that we should tolerate the level of dysfunction that prevailed between the Newport City Council and Jane Howington, the most recent city manager who, after just two-and-a-half years on the job, left for a similar position in Hudson, Ohio last July.

It was not the first time that a city manager left Newport after a seemingly short stay on the job. There have been 12 city managers here since that form of municipal government began in 1953. While that averages out to a little more than five years per term, recent history has seen several managers whose tenure—like Howington’s— was much shorter. We’d like to see the next manager stay around longer than that.

There was no beating around the bush about why Howington departed, not long after getting a contract extension. She did not get along well with the City Council. “Friction” some people politely called it. Others were less polite.

So what’s the ideal profile for the next Newport city manager? The recent public forum at the Newport Public Library elicited a range of desirable city manager characteristics. “Savvy” was one. “Customer focused” was another that sounded ideal for a sales manager. A person with “some real chops” was suggested, as was “someone with a sense of humor.”

Well, okay.

But here’s what we think. As the council works to fashion a satisfactory job description to lure smart, dynamic candidates to apply for the city manager’s job in Newport, the seven council members must ask themselves whether or not they really want to make this form of government work this time around.

That means being willing to cooperate and support the next city manager. It means council members speaking their minds, but in a manner that’s constructive, rather than destructive. We’ve had enough of the latter behavior around here.

Don’t think for a minute that for this to work it will require council members to be lap dogs or errand boys and girls for the next city manager. That would just be trading one dysfunctional atmosphere for another that would be equally unappealing—and doomed to failure.

The recipe for success is not complicated. It starts with a city manager and seven city councilors whose reason for being in their positions is to simply do what’s best for the city of Newport—and not what’s best for one person or a handful of individuals.

That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.

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