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Santagate: No Retirement Plans

City Manager Guy Santagate explains the state of the city's finances during a meeting Tuesday with Senator Bob Odell, the Claremont City Council and several State Representatives at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont.
Valley News - Jason Johns

Valley News - Jason Johns

City Manager Guy Santagate explains the state of the city's finances during a meeting Tuesday with Senator Bob Odell, the Claremont City Council and several State Representatives at the Sugar River Valley Regional Technical Center in Claremont. Valley News - Jason Johns Valley News - Jason Johns Purchase photo reprints »

Claremont — City Manager Guy Santagate will mark his 12th year at the helm of the city in August, and while he probably won’t remain for another 12 years, Santagate, 75, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“As of now, I don’t have any retirement plans,” Santagate said last week. “I have told the council that.”

Nevertheless, the City Council asked Santagate at its June 12 meeting to develop a transition plan.

“The succession plan is more than personnel, it is about organization,” Santagate said. “Right now, each department has a succession plan and we talk about it all the time. It is not unusual to do.

“It is about being prepared for change,” Santagate said. “It is a worthwhile exercise to go through. But right now it is very early in the process.”

Santagate said it is important to prevent any “gaps” at the top when he leaves and “not break stride.”

“I, like the council, also have an interest in continuity.”

As to what shape his succession plan will take, Santagate was noncommittal.

“I do think it is important to have public input. It did work well the last time, at least I think it did,” he said with a laugh.

Santagate’s hiring involved a screening committee that included members of the public. One thing Santagate said he believes is important for the benefit of the city and should continue under his successor is reaching outside the city.

“I have worked hard at creating partnerships at state and federal level to get grants,” he said. “I think that is key and should continue in the future.”

The current construction project at Drapers Corner and the one scheduled for North and Main streets are two cases where Santagate said he was able to secure federal and state funds to pay for nearly all of the multimillion-dollar projects.

“You need someone who will speak out for the city, but not in a hostile way,” he said.

Santagate, who earns $100,000 a year, said his tenure, like that of most other public officials, has not been without some controversy, though it does not involve him personally.

Right now, the city’s police, firefighters and public works employees are without a contract and have not had one since 2008, though police officers have received annual step increases. But the negotiations are at an impasse because of sharp disagreement between the bargaining teams over health insurance and how much of the cost employees should start paying.

A recent fact-finder’s report, which was rejected by the council, recommended raises combined with union members paying something toward health insurance but not to the level the city was demanding. The police department has said the lack of a contract has created morale problems and has made it hard to attract and retain veteran officers. “I have high hopes we can get it resolved,” Santagate said.

There is also a controversy brewing over the outdoor pool and the city’s decision to close it in the spring of 2012. Resident Jeff Barrette, a county commissioner, disputes the condition of the pool and the cost of repairs as outlined by the city. He is trying to build support among residents to oppose a motion at the July 10 council meeting to demolish the pool.

“We want the input on the pool and we’ll listen to what people have to say,” Santagate said.

Overall, Santagate said, he likes the direction the city is going and feels he has a good rapport with residents.

“I hear some criticism and get a lot of suggestions. When people approach me without being asked (by me) I feel they really thought about what they want to say and mean it. … Some have problems and issues, though they seem to think we are doing well. But for me it is never enough or quick enough. I always want to hear legitimate concerns and do something about them, but I skip the politics.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.