Gobern named interim manager

For a term up to six months
Fri, 02/17/2017 - 10:30am

“There’s a hand on the helm for the next six months.”

First Warden Ken Lacoste made that remark after the New Shoreham Town Council voted unanimously at its meeting on Wednesday to appoint long-time Administrative Assistant Shirlyne Gobern as interim Town Manager. Gobern, who occupied the Town Manager’s chair at the dais after the vote, is assuming the office vacated by Jim Lathrop on Feb. 10. 

Gobern is familiar with the job description and duties of the town manager, having served as administrative assistant to the office for the past 10 years. A graduate of the Community College of Rhode Island, with an Associate Degree in General Studies, Gobern began her tenure at Town Hall in 2000, when she worked as an administrative assistant to Building Official Marc Tillson.

In 2006, Gobern was hired by former Town Manager Nancy Dodge to serve as her administrative assistant. She also previously worked as administrative assistant to attorney Elliot Taubman in his island-based law office for 10 years.

Gobern told The Block Island Times on Thursday, her first official day in office, that she is “ready for the challenge. People have told me that I am underestimated — that I’m like a diamond in the rough,” she said, after remarking that her appointment came as somewhat of a surprise.

During her interview with The Times, Gobern reflected on her ancestry, noting that “it felt surreal” to be named interim Town Manager since her ancestors were early settlers on Block Island. “It’s truly an honor to be in this place where they started out. It’s like coming full circle,” she said.

Gobern said that Wednesday morning, prior to the Town Council meeting, she was approached by Lacoste, who asked if she would be interested in serving in the interim role. She also said that the “other Councilors were rooting for” her to be appointed. Gobern noted that some of the town’s employees, and members of the community had told her she should express an interest in the position.

As for performing the role of Interim Town Manager, Gobern said, “I have an awesome support staff. I’m ready to take this challenge.”

Prior to appointing Gobern to the position, the Town Council deliberated over who should fill the interim role. Second Warden Norris Pike asked his fellow Council members to consider Facilities Manager Sam Bird for the interim position. Lacoste said that he had spoke to resident Rachele Fallon, who was interested in the job.

After some back and forth, the Town Council narrowed the discussion down to two candidates: Gobern and Bird, who were in attendance. Councilor André Boudreau asked both candidates if they were interested in assuming the office, and both said they were.

Pike said that he felt that Bird could “do the job,” and was “very familiar” with the workings of the town. “Shirlyne would be a great assistant” to him, said Pike. “I think they could get the job done.”

“I disagree,” said Councilor Chris Willi, who made the motion to appoint Gobern. “I have the utmost confidence in Shirlyne. She can do it with the help of the other department heads. I think Shirlyne is fully capable.”

Councilor Martha Ball agreed with Willi. “I support Shirlyne. Nothing against Sam,” she said. Ball said that the town’s Finance Director Amy Land has a good handle on drafting the town’s budget, which should aid Gobern in managing the duties as interim town manager.  

“Anybody we get from the outside would be taking direction from Shirlyne anyway,” said Willi, who made the point that by hiring Gobern there would not be the issue of having to find someone to replace her position. In response to that point, Gobern told the Council that she wouldn’t require an assistant, but could be assisted with “minor clerical things” at times by the town’s clerks.

Highways Supervisor Mike Shea said it would be a “joint effort” by the town helping Gobern with her job duties, to which Ball quipped: “Are you offering to do clerical work?”

Looking forward, regarding the Town Manager’s office, Boudreau said that he felt either candidate could perform the role suitably, but urged caution in rushing to find a permanent Town Manager. “We just had a bad taste” of what can happen if the process is rushed, he said. “We should make sure that the next Town Manager is the right one.”

The Town Council moved to advertise for the formation of a 5 to 7 member on-island Town Manager search committee. The town had previously paid $22,577 for the services of a professional search firm, the Mercer Group, when it hired former Town Manager Jim Lathrop.

The Town Council seems intent on keeping things in-house this time around, and want to “involve the community,” as Lacoste stated during the meeting. Lacoste said that interested search committee candidates should send a letter of interest to the Town Council by March 3.

Road safety

In other news, the Town Council heard about road safety recommendations from Traffic Safety expert Al Davis, along with Police Chief Vin Carlone. Davis said that placing signs at a visible height of seven-feet on the town’s roads, and “painted walkways” would help with traffic issues. Davis also said the town should add more sidewalks, and “piggyback” off of contractors who are on-island working on road related projects to construct them.   

“There are little things” that can be done to address the traffic and accident issues on the island, said Davis, who noted that he recorded an average total of 900 people per hour passing through Bridge Gate Square during a typical summer weekend. That tally consisted of pedestrians, as well as people riding on bicycles and mopeds.

Davis said: “We want to send a message that better educates, informs and directs pedestrian and vehicular traffic on the island. If you make it look like you care about it, people will care about it.”

“You’ve given us a lot to think about,” said Lacoste. “We will support your recommendations.”

The Town Council approved the hiring of the firm, Vanasse, Hangen, Brustlin (VHB), Inc., to conduct a planning study associated with the impact of sea level rise and storm damage on Corn Neck Road. The planning study will be funded by a $59,500 Discovery Recovery Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. During a discussion on the subject, Planning Board Vice Chair Sven Risom told the Town Council that the study would primarily address issues associated with “storm-water runoff.”

The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 6 at 7 p.m.