Steve Gamatoria started his new job Monday.
The former Havre de Grace City councilman, who resigned his elected position at the Oct. 23 meeting, officially became chief of staff for Havre de Grace Mayor William Martin.
Gamatoria, who said he struggled with the decision to leave the council with more than six months left on his two-year term, ultimately decided he could do more for the city and its citizens as chief of staff than he could as one of the six legislators on the City Council.
Gamatoria’s new job as Chief of Staff is a full-time contractual position, without any benefits, paying $85,000 annually. His contract runs through June 30, 2018, the end of the city’s current fiscal year, when it will be up for review and renewal.
The mayor made two Gamatoria-related announcements at Monday night’s City Council meeting: One, that day had been Gamatoria’s first on the job. And two, the mayor said he wasn’t going to nominate a replacement for him on the council for another two weeks.
Martin said there’s been a lot of interest in replacing Gamatoria and that he’s heard from a number of people. He added that he’s going to take his time so he can make the best decision.
“I’m hoping to make the decision at the next council meeting,” the mayor said.
Gamatoria would have been up for re-election for another two-year term in May. He was elected in 2016 along with David Glenn and Michael Hitchings.
Glenn led the way in that election with 846 votes, Gamatoria was second with 781 votes and Hitchings was third with 730.
Jason Robertson finished fourth by only 15 votes that year in a race for three seats with 715. Robertson was elected to his first term this past May along with fellow council members David Martin and Monica Worrell.
Worrell has announced she is running for a seat in the House of Delegates in 2018 and, if elected, she would have to resign her City Council seat. That would give the mayor an opportunity to fill yet another council seat by appointment, as he did previously in 2015 when he stepped down from his council seat after being elected mayor and tapped Hitchings to replace him.
William Martin, no relation to David Martin, was also re-elected to a second two-year term as mayor last May.
Since then, Martin has been saying the next 10 years might be the most important decade as any in the city’s history.
He points to the new Amtrak bridge spanning the Susquehanna River and serving as the northern gateway to downtown Havre de Grace, the pending closing of Harford Memorial Hospital after more than a century on Union Avenue and the opening of a new freestanding medical center at the Interstate 95 and Route 155 interchange and the construction of a new Havre de Grace High School and Middle School complex as examples of big changes coming.
Gamatoria and the mayor think the chief of staff will better help the mayor and the city on a day to day basis than he would as one of six part-time legislators on the City Council.
The mayor and Gamatoria emphasized that while the job of chief of staff is new, it’s not an additional position. The funding has been in the budget, the mayor said, adding that it was the money earmarked for John Van Gilder, a longtime member of the Havre de Grace Police Department before he started working for the city government a few years ago.
Van Gilder, who Martin said resigned his position earlier this year, had been doing intergovernmental relations, a job the mayor said was no longer needed.
During citizen comments just before Monday’s City Council meeting adjourned, Roger Leffler, a longtime Havre de Grace resident, stepped to the microphone and questioned the mayor about Gamatoria’s new role.
“How can we be an equal opportunity employer?” Leffler asked, touching off a brief, tense exchange with the mayor.
Leffler asked about the propriety of the mayor creating a job and then filling it with his handpicked choice before anyone else even knew there was such a position, yet alone allowed to express any interest in the job.
The mayor asked April Ishak, the city attorney, to explain the process to Leffler.
“The charter allows the mayor to appoint directors positions,” she said.
Ishak further explained that if it were any position other than what is considered a director’s position, it would have to be advertised and open to more than one candidate.
“We didn’t add another position,” the mayor said.