It was both hectic and comforting. My first week in Portsmouth was filled with a swearing-in ceremony at the Town Council meeting, numerous staff and citizen meetings and neighborhood tours by citizens who care deeply about this town. I am so appreciative of the time and effort that each of our Town Councilors have dedicated recently to help make my first week here productive. I apologize to them for the multitude of stupid, but necessary questions from a very new newcomer. My wife and I are native Cape Codders who recently moved to Georgia. She will be joining me here next week and I can't wait to show her your beautiful community.
What is clear to me is that Portsmouth is unique. The farms and open space, the small town environment, the level of citizen volunteer participation and activism and the dedication of our town staff. In a way, it reminds me of Cape Cod in the 1970's. As someone who has been a town manager and active in local and state government for 30 years, I hope and believe that I can bring a multitude of experiences on a wide variety of local government issues to this job. I have learned (sometimes the hard way) what works and what doesn't work in the area of growth management, economic development, open space preservation, public safety and recreation. But most of all, I bring years of experience in municipal finance and a passion for managing local government in a cost effective, efficient and responsive way.
But I don't start this job believing that I know better than YOU what is good for YOUR community. I am very mindful that I know little about Portsmouth and need to spend most of my first few months here listening. Listening to the hundreds of residents that I will meet who have so much to offer. It is an odd balance of listening and acting that makes a new manager's job so challenging.
Over the comings weeks, I will be focusing on assembling a budget to present to the Town Council. We face some real financial challenges in Portsmouth. We have an unfunded pension liability that needs to be addressed. We have an unhealthy low level of reserves. And we don't even have a long range Capital Improvement Plan to fix and maintain our community infrastructure. On the financial front, we need a new direction. A new commitment to act before it is too late. And we don't have much time to spare. To me this is not a Republican or Democratic thing. Or a liberal or conservative thing. It is finding what the truth is about the operations of town government and taking the necessary actions to protect our future.
I come to Portsmouth with a high level of enthusiasm and an absolute commitment to work hard with and for you to make a difference. I know these are challenging times but I also know that Portsmouth is worth fighting for. There will be many debates on the expenditure of scarce resources and there will be disagreement on the setting of priorities. So I am sure that from time to time, we will disagree on issues and that healthy discussion and debate will make for better decision making. And I hope, at least once in a while, we can all share a laugh together, too.
And lastly, I will not soon forget the advice given to me by my 80-year-old mother, who was born and raised in Rhode Island. She said, "John, if ever you get to the point where you are utterly confused, baffled or perplexed about what you are seeing or witnessing, just remember one thing.
"You now live in Rhode Island!"
Not sure what my dear mother meant by that, but I suspect I will soon find out!