County agrees to new manager's deal
The Dukes County Commissioners last night met in executive session and agreed on the terms of the contract they will sign with Russell Smith, who was selected Friday to be the county’s paid chief executive. In essence, they agreed to subcontract the job of county manager.
Ending an eight-month search process, the seven county commissioners voted last week to hire Mr. Smith. The initial vote was four-three, followed by a unanimous vote in favor.
Mr. Smith, of Tisbury, and F. Tenney Lantz, an attorney from South Dartmouth, were the only two candidates the commissioners considered to fill the job left vacant following the resignation of former county manager E. Winn Davis last August.
Mr. Smith is well known to county officials. He is a civil engineer and former Aquinnah selectman. He is also legislative liaison to state representative Eric Turkington, a position that pays him $34,000 annually.
Mr. Smith has pushed to keep his job for the remainder of Rep. Turkington’s term, which expires at the end of this year. Rep. Turkington is not seeking re-election.
Following the Friday vote, the commissioners authorized county commission chairman Leslie Leland of West Tisbury to negotiate a contract. Mr. Leland presented the draft agreement he negotiated with Mr. Smith to his fellow commissioners at their 5 pm meeting last night in the county administrative building.
The county commissioners and Mr. Smith agreed on a six-month contract. The outlines of the deal are as follows. Mr. Smith will begin work on April 21. He will receive no benefits other than the use of a county vehicle. His pay will be based on an annual salary of $45,000. The terms were designed so that Mr. Smith can retain his liaison job until the end of the year.
At the end of the six-month contract period, the commissioners will evaluate Mr. Smith’s job performance. If they are satisfied, he will receive a full-time position with benefits at an annual salary of $60,000. The advertised salary for the position was up to $75,000 annually, plus benefits.
State legislators created the liaison position to maintain good communication with the Islands when they eliminated the Vineyard and Nantucket districts to create a Cape and Islands seat in the House of Representatives. A similar position exists on Nantucket.
In a conversation with a Times reporter on Monday, Rep. Turkington said Mr. Smith’s ability to keep the liaison’s job would depend on the arrangements he negotiates with the county.
"If he’s in a full-time salaried position with them, he can’t do both," said Mr. Turkington. "If he’s got some part-time thing going with the county, that’s between him and them."
Mr. Turkington said he does not keep formal records of the time Mr. Smith spends in his role as legislative liaison.
Mr. Smith told The Times Wednesday prior to the meeting that the time required for the job varies widely, but he often spends about half of the work week acting as a legislative liaison. "I go to Boston every week to track the legislation that towns have going," he said. "There are probably eight or nine bills every year that we track through committees."
When asked whether the time demands of holding both positions might conflict, Mr. Smith said, "That’s what the negotiation is about, to make sure that doesn’t happen. That’s what needs to be worked out. I’m hoping that in a lot of respects they turn out to be the same job."
If he holds both positions, both salaries would count toward his retirement benefits. His state pension would be based on his highest salary during any 36-month period he was employed by state, regional, or municipal government. His pension benefits would be paid proportionately by the agencies that employed him.
According to the state law that authorizes the county’s form of government, "the salary of the county manager shall be fixed by the commissioners; such salary shall be reasonable and commensurate with the fact that the position of county manager is and shall be a full-time position."
Mr. Leland said he does not see a conflict with that provision of the law. "Full time can be accomplished whether it’s working 30 hours a week or 60 hours a week," he told The Times following the Friday meeting. "It’s doing the job. When you’re in a management position it’s not by the clock. If he needs to, he can come in here on Saturday to do some additional work to get caught up, or follow up. As county manager, they do attend a lot of, this is our hope, attend a lot of the meetings, selectmen’s meetings for example, Martha's Vineyard Commission meetings, to be a presence, to be available. Those meetings don’t always occur Monday through Friday; they are evening meetings and Saturday meetings. I expect that he would be doing that, so it all works out."
The county manager exercises direct supervisory control over his administrative assistant, the county rodent control officer, county beaches, health access, the veterans’ agent, and a budget of less than $1 million.
County treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders has served as acting county manager over the past six months.
The search for a new manager began last July when 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.
But in a Dec. 5 vote, none of the three finalists, including Mr. Smith, won 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.
Mr. Leland , vice-chairman Roger Wey of Oak Bluffs, Tristan Israel of Tisbury and Paul Strauss of Oak Bluffs voted to select Mr. Smith.
Commissioners John Alley of West Tisbury, Carlene Gatting of Edgartown and Leonard Jason Jr. of Chilmark voted to select Ms. Lantz.
In a show of unison following the original vote, the commissioners voted unanimously to offer Mr. Smith the job.