LOWELL - City Manager Bernie Lynch, in a surprise development, announced his resignation Tuesday night during the first meeting of a new City Council, the makeup of which had left in doubt whether Lynch would have been offered a new deal later this year when his current pact was set to expire.
Lynch, who has served as city manager for almost 7 1/2 years and has been credited with vastly improving the city's finances, told the council his resignation will be effective March 10 at noon.
"While there is much work ahead in the cementing the progress that has been made, I believe I have largely accomplished the goals that I set out on July 31, 2006, when I was sworn in as city manager," Lynch read to the council from a resignation letter dated Jan.
"With a new City Council in place, I believe it is a good time for me to pursue other endeavors and for the city to move to a new period." Lynch had placed on the meeting agenda a request for a private session for the council "to discuss contract negotiations with the city manager," which councilors and City Solicitor Christine O'Connor thought would be about a new contract. The council voted 8-1 to hold the session in public, which is when Lynch made his announcement.
Lynch, who recently moved to the city's downtown, told The Sun afterward he made the decision to step down "a little while ago," though he did not provide an exact timetable.
In his letter to the council, Lynch said he has been fortunate to work with "a great team of department heads" who helped the city succeed in the areas of finances, operations and economic development.
"I hope the greatest accomplishment is people have been able to see the merit of professional government, looking with a long-term perspective, dealing with things in a neutral fashion and really looking out for the citizens in a way that treats them all the same," Lynch said in an interview.
Lynch, who is earning a salary of $179,856, said he has no plans for the future at this time. The City Council will decide in the coming days how to proceed with seeking its next city manager.
Following November's election, which saw four new councilors elected - Corey Belanger, James Milinazzo, Daniel Rourke and William Samaras - there was a split over whether the new council should offer Lynch a new contract.
Councilor Edward Kennedy, Belanger and Rourke said they opposed contracts for the city manager's position, while newly elected Mayor Rodney Elliott was opposed to offering Lynch a new contract because of what he called poor performance, including several scandals in city departments.
Milinazzo, Samaras and Councilor Bill Martin had indicated they would support offering Lynch a new contract. Councilor Rita Mercier said she was neutral on the matter, while Councilor John Leahy said he would consider offering Lynch a new deal. Lynch's announcement left councilors surprised and some disappointed.
"It was very, very shocking," Belanger told The Sun. "I think it was for all of us. I just did not expect that. My intuition told me that by moving downtown, he would be interested in staying."
Samaras, who also was participating in his first meeting as a councilor, told The Sun he wish Lynch was staying on board. "I was very disappointed," said Samaras. "I was ready for almost anything, but I was hoping that was not it."
Milinazzo, who helped negotiate Lynch's current deal when he was mayor in 2010, said he was disappointed he was not going to get to iron out another deal with Lynch. But like other councilors, he praised Lynch's time in Lowell.
"I think you, and the administration, and the City Councils you served with have brought the city forward," Milinazzo said. Martin, who was the lone vote against a public session to discuss Lynch's contract, agreed.
"I think many of us having served with you would think the city will be in a better place because of your service," Martin said. Both Elliott and Mercier acknowledged they had their differences with Lynch, but praised him for his work on the city's finances, with Elliott praising his efforts on the annual city budget.
"Overall, your financial skills were top notch," Mercier said.
"I wish you well," said Elliott, who led the charge for a public discussion of Lynch's future. "Some good things have certainly been done in the city."
Belanger, Kennedy and Leahy also publicly thanked Lynch for his fiscal efforts. The city has gone from being on a state Department of Revenue watch list to having strong bond ratings during his tenure.
Lynch's contract, which was set to expire July 31, called for him to notify the council at least 60 days in advance if he wished to terminate the pact early, which Tuesday's action does.
Under the contract, Lynch is entitled to receive his accrued vacation time, but no severance pay.
Lynch closed his resignation letter by thanking the residents of the city for their support during his service as manager.
"It has been a pleasure and honor to be the city manager of such an amazing and special community," Lynch said.
Follow Lyle Moran on Twitter and Tout @lylemoran.