County commissioners try, try again to hire manager
On Saturday afternoon the Dukes County commissioners plan to interview two finalists selected from among nine applicants for the job of Dukes County manager. The agenda could include a vote to fill the position that has been vacant since last August.
In the case of one of the job finalists the commissioners are right back where they started. Russell Smith, a civil engineer and Vineyard legislative liaison for state Rep. Erik Turkington, has made the list of possible candidates twice before.
The other county manager candidate is F. Tenney Lantz of South Dartmouth. She is the former chief operating officer and director of administration for the Girl Scout Council of Southeastern Massachusetts and a lawyer.
The seven commissioners have followed a tortuous route to arrive at this point following the resignation seven months ago of E. Winn Davis from the job that paid him $79,194 annually to be the county's chief executive.
Last July, the commissioners began advertising and appointed a screening committee of respected Islanders to narrow the field to a slate of prospective candidates. But by late September the committee decided that none of the applicants, including Mr. Smith, met the advertised criteria and they recommended that the commissioners reopen the search process.
In October, the county commissioners looked at the 12 candidates, but they did not come to the same conclusion as their committee. The county commissioners picked three and held public interviews on Nov. 10.
Commissioner Lenny Jason of Chilmark did not participate. Mr. Jason objected to the commissioners' decision to ignore the recommendation of their appointed selection committee.
But at a Dec. 5 vote, none of the three finalists, including Mr. Smith, could garner more than two votes.
The county commissioners decided to reopen the search and raise the salary ceiling by $15,000, to $75,000, in order to attract more qualified candidates.
The increased salary and wider advertising produced nine candidates, of which the commissioners will interview two.
"I'd like to get it right this time," county commission chairman Leslie Leland of West Tisbury told The Times Tuesday. "It's important. We're at a critical stage."
Though commissioners have authorized up to $75,000 for the new manager's salary, the salary will be negotiated.
"The range could be anywhere," said Mr. Leland. "It depends on their qualifications. The commissioners want to make it very clear to them the priorities, and we'll review it in six months, to see how things are progressing."
Mr. Leland said he was pleased with the number and quality of the applicants, including Mr. Smith.
"I'm glad to see his name back in there," said Mr. Leland.
"The position of county manger has been evolving," said county commissioner Carlene Gatting of Edgartown. "Yet we're in a position where the statute requires that we hire a full-time county manager. Given the uncertainty of the situation I was impressed with the quality of the people who applied."
Mr. Smith's latest application consists of a three-page letter that references his professional activities in his capacity as a civil engineer and legislative liaison. The letter also addresses personal issues and is unusual in its candor.
"Please excuse the personal tone of this correspondence," wrote Mr. Smith by way of explanation, "but I have long-standing relationships with most of you and am writing in that context."
Mr. Smith references a 1992 finding by the state Ethics Commission that he violated the conflict of interest law while he was chairman of the Gay Head board of selectmen.
According to an ethics commission report, the violation, for which he was fined $500, occurred when he questioned town police officials in executive session about their cooperation with Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents in a search of his brother's house.
Mr. Smith provided no details but wrote that his involvement led to the removal of a police officer. "It was one of my proudest moments." wrote Mr. Smith, who noted that the voters were aware he was doing their bidding and overwhelmingly voted for him to a second term.
In a phone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Smith stressed that the case occurred in the context of long concerns about an "overzealous police officer" who was involved in several other incidents. "The town supported me in my effort to change some of the personnel of the police force. I don't want my chances for this job torpedoed by the past. No one has ever questioned my ethics except for that one time."
Mr. Smith's letter also notes that he is in the middle of a divorce. He wrote, "Any concern that these pressures have driven me to either a drug or alcohol problem is unfounded."
Mr. Smith told The Times that he decided to address the issues head on because they were contentions made by his wife's lawyer in court. He added in his letter that he had taken multiple chemical tests, and that the results were all negative. He said he did not believe either issue was a factor when the commissioners decided not to offer him the position.
The other candidate is much less familiar to the county commissioners and Island life. In her cover letter, Ms. Lantz said she has held government positions in the administration of former governor Michael Dukakis and for the city of New Bedford. She wrote that she is familiar with the Island through her legal work on a land use analysis of Martha's Vineyard, and her work with the Martha's Vineyard Commission on a Girl Scout lodge project in Chilmark.
"My experience in public administration has been extensive," wrote Ms. Lantz. "I am familiar with all aspects of real property permitting, including areas of planning, zoning, conservation, and health."
She said she took an early retirement package from the Girl Scout Council when the organization decided to consolidate several councils.
Ms. Lantz is a graduate of Clark University and Southern New England School of Law. She practices elder and Medicaid law at her family law firm in Dartmouth, according to her resume.
The search for a manager comes against the backdrop of an examination of county government by the Dukes County Charter Study Commission, which could significantly change the structure of county government, including the manager's position.
The county manager exercises direct supervisory control over his administrative assistant, the county rodent control officer, county beaches, a health access program, the veterans' agent, and a budget of less than $1 million.
County treasurer Noreen Mavro-Flanders has filled the unpaid post of acting county manager since August.