Director of land use will leave city for consultant work

After two years on the job and instituting a number of changes in the city’s land use departments, the city’s director of pubic land use is leaving to do consultant work for government agencies.

Jocelyn Mathiasen, the city’s first director of public land use, announced last week that she plans to resign in February.

The director position was created two years ago to coordinate and oversee the different land use departments in the city and help create efficiencies that would help people get the permits they wanted more quickly.

“I believe the department has improved dramatically in the past two years,” Mathiasen said. “The department truly functions as a team now and with training, technology, staffing changes, and my ability to insulate staff from politics, for the most part we have done a lot of good.”

The job has come with frustrations, Mathiasen admitted, saying that it is sometimes hard to give people what they want while following standards and regulations.

“My other frustration is that we are painfully under-resourced,” she added. “I do not understand how elected officials can keep putting enormous pressure on us to do more, faster while every year taking resources away. Efficiencies can lead to doing better or doing with less, but not both.

“After cutting an inspector and clerk the year before, my first year we were cut to one clerk in the building department, which is an impossible staffing level that has really hurt us.

“I wish we could review plans faster and schedule inspections for the same or next day, but there is only a limited amount of toothpaste you can get through the tube, and we just do not have the manpower needed for the amount of work there is in Milford,” Mathiasen said.

The city’s land use departments had to deal with Hurricane Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene before her, and that has taught local officials here a great deal. Mathiasen said the storms have shown that homes built to today’s code survived remarkably well; older ones did not.

“There is much to be done, but we are on a good path. I am confident that the mayor will find someone who can build on our successes.”

Mathiasen was appointed Milford’s director of permitting and land use in 2010, a position created here to coordinate efforts among three city land use departments.

She replaced Douglas Novak, who was interim land use director when the post was created in November 2010.

The position was controversial when it was created. A faction of city employees and Milford politicians saw creating the post as a means of taking control from city departments and needlessly creating another layer of government.

Nevertheless, Mayor Ben Blake said the post will not be eliminated but that a search committee will start looking for a replacement for Mathiasen, who earned about $95,000 when she started the job.

“The position is certainly something we need,” Blake said. “There are still challenges in permitting, procedures and bringing new efficiencies and customer service.”

The mayor noted a number of improvements in the land use agencies, including the fact that many applications are now online. But there are still improvements to be made, he said.