Several senior Newport RI government officials left in late 2021
NEWPORT — The city’s building official, who was director of the zoning and inspections division, city planner, historic preservation officer and fire chief all left city jobs at the end of 2021, so there has been a lot of turnover at the top of the city government.
Building Officer William A. Hanley II retired on December 31. He had worked in Newport since November 2004.
Ted J. Isabella started as Hanley’s replacement on Monday. Isabella was previously a building inspector in East Providence, where he was licensed as a building official. Before that, he was a building inspector in Providence, according to Michael Coury, the city’s director of human resources.
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Isabella also worked as a minimum housing inspector in Providence and, before entering the inspections field, had her own construction company, said Tom Shevlin, the city’s communications manager.
Christine O’Grady is back as an urban planner. She replaces Peter Friedrich, who left the post at the end of August 2021 to study law in New York. Friedrich had replaced O’Grady, who left the post in December 2018.
O’Grady first took the job as Newport’s city planner in July 2015, but left after 3½ years to become director of planning in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. When asked what motivated her to return, she replied, “I love Newport.”
Historic preservation planner Helen Johnson left her post in December after more than six years on the job to take up a position in the private sector, but continues to help the city through the transition, Coury said. She will be replaced by Nick Armour, who will assume the role in mid-February, Coury said. Armor comes to Newport from Berkeley, Calif., where he is the lead planner.
Chief Brian Dugan, who served in the fire department for decades, retired Dec. 31.
“We will definitely make the announcement soon of a new fire chief,” Coury said.
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“They’re all great people,” City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. said. “I’m heartbroken to see them go.” They were all fabulous. Welcome back, Christine O’Grady. She was fantastic when she was here. She was the main driving force and agitator that brought us to the overall land use plan. »
The plan was approved by the state in 2017 and is valid for 10 years.
Some things haven’t changed much for O’Grady. Shortly before he left, there was a line in a Nov. 30, 2018, Newport Daily News article that read, “Grady worked on it.”
These dormitories are still pending before a city council. The Zoning Board of Review is currently holding hearings on whether to approve a special use permit for each of the dorms. The next hearing is scheduled for the end of March 2022.
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“Helen Johnson was very strong and excellent in her position as a historic planner,” Nicholson said. “We wish her good luck – she is still in contact with us and helps us a bit.”
“Bill Hanley still works for us on a volunteer basis,” he added. “We will of course call on him to help us move forward.”
One of the major projects Hanley worked on was getting Newport into the National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System. As of October 2017, more than 1,400 city homeowners who purchased flood insurance through the program received ongoing discounts on their insurance premiums.
“When we started recruiting for a building official, I was amazed at how many communities in Rhode Island were looking for building officials,” Coury said.
He determined through the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns that “five or six communities” were looking for a building official, a few of which had been looking for up to two years.
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“The fact that Newport was able to attract and place someone in three weeks is incredible,” Coury said. “We were very lucky to have Ted join our team.”
There has also been a lot of turnover in other positions in the city, he said.
“When you see in the news the ‘Great American Resignation,’ I can’t say how true that is,” he said. “COVID has done a lot of things for people, including getting people to change their minds about what they want to do. Maybe it’s trying to do other things. We see it in our own city family.
“I’ve been in this business for 37 years and I’ve never seen what we’re seeing right now, in terms of onboarding, hiring, recruiting,” he said. “Typical salaries are generally competitive, but it’s the pensions, benefits and job security that make people readily accept our offers. This has not necessarily been so over the past year. What we find is that the current employers of our candidates oppose our offers.
“I’ve had more offers turned down in the past year than I’ve ever seen in my 32 years with the city,” Coury said. “We have to be a bit more creative. Luckily, we’re a big city — people recognize Newport. We have our treasures, which makes these integrations a bit easier, but it’s still quite a challenge.