County commission takes hard look at management

County manager Russell Smith.
File photo by Ralph Stewart

County manager Russell Smith.

Dukes County commissioners scrutinized administrative positions in county government, at their November 16 meeting, and questioned county manager Russell Smith about how he spends his work day.

The commissioners approved a change in the county administrative code to reflect the possibility of making the county manager’s job a part-time position.

County commissioner Melinda Loberg of Tisbury, who is chairman of the county commission’s personnel sub-committee, presented that sub-committee’s report to the commission. She outlined the committee’s process of reviewing job descriptions to make sure they are up to date and could serve as a basis for the committee’s recommendation on the best configuration for the administrative office.

“The executive assistant’s job consists primarily of discreet weekly/monthly/annual tasks that are required for the smooth functioning of the county offices,” the committee wrote in its report. “We believe this job description requires no change. The manager’s job, on the other hand, is less amenable to analysis and is not confined to managing people or departments. The manager completed three weeks of recording his daily activities and presented them for our review.”

Mr. Smith submitted a one-page letter summarizing his activities over two and a half weeks, separating tasks into general categories, how many incidences in each category, and the percentage of time he spent on each category.

Under county administration, for example, he listed “warrants, payroll, committee meetings, etc.,” including 21 incidences, taking up 25 percent of his time.

Under miscellaneous, he listed “correspondence, legal questions, budget, public.”

Under Sylvia State Beach, he listed “dredging, replenishment, plantings.”

Under Dukes County courthouse, he listed “maintenance, windows, plumbing.”

Under veteran/hospital, he listed “correspondence, communications, meetings.”

Under MV airport, he listed “solar voltaics / SSA lot.”

“As you can see,” Mr. Smith wrote, “approximately 25 percent of my effort goes to the administration in the county. Projects represent about 55 percent of my time, and the rest of my time is dealing with the public or issues that don’t have longevity to warrant a category at this time.”

In the letter, he said focus and priorities change at different times of the year, and that the time period recorded represents a snapshot of his duties.

At its November 16 meeting, some of the county commissioners said they would have liked to see specific time logs and more detail, according to a recording of the meeting.

“I’m talking about getting a better idea of how time was spent,” commissioner Carlene Gatting of Edgartown said. “What did you actually do, not just that it was airport-related, or state beach, or animal shelter, but what are you actually doing?”

“I see areas that need to be dealt with that are not in here at all,” chairman Tristan Israel of Tisbury said. “One is going out to the towns and engaging with town boards. The second is initiatives, time for new initiatives. I don’t see either of these on here. The animal shelter is a non-issue now, we’re not really involved in that any more, they have their own board. Solar voltaics involved one board meeting, maybe two.”

“I would point to the airport solar voltaics as one of the new initiatives,” Mr. Smith responded. “Over this period of time it (the animal shelter) involved some time to get the heating system on and do some things there.”

“One of the things this list accomplishes,” Ms. Loberg said, “is to stimulate us to see what our priorities are.”

“It’s stimulating me right now,” Mr. Israel said. “In that respect, it’s a very successful list.”

Details

In a follow up phone interview with The Times, Mr. Smith provided more detail about his daily activities. He cited beach management as an example. The Massachusetts Division of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) designates the county to manage the popular Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach. DCR provides the county with a $30,000 grant annually to manage the resource.

“It includes everything,” Mr. Smith said. “We do the plantings. I order materials, coordinate the people. I help plant. I spend $10,000 to $12,000 on bird monitoring, which is required. We hire the Audubon Society. They keep track of the piping plovers, the oyster catchers. I spend a little time walking out there with them to make sure they don’t go overboard, or underboard.”

Mr. Smith said he also supervises sand replenishing, erects a safety fence at Big Bridge, posts signs that advise visitors when dogs are allowed on the beach, and issues permits for about a half-dozen beach parties each year.

Mr. Smith also cited management of the Dukes County courthouse in Edgartown.

“The court system is run by the state,” Mr. Smith said. “We own the building and maintain the building. When there’s a problem they call me. It goes from fixing the toilet to putting in a new pump on the furnace.”

According to the time summary submitted at the November 16 meeting, Mr. Smith spent about 15 percent of his time on the courthouse in the two and a half weeks during which he recorded his activity.

He said he is currently supervising a project to repair or replace 21 windows in the building. The project is funded entirely by the six Island towns, which appropriated about $60,000 at their 2011 town meetings. So far seven windows have been repaired or replaced.

“We started this last fall,” Mr. Smith said. “We can’t do that with the court system, because it’s running, so it means meeting people on weekends, some of it, if needed.”

Duties and accountability

The current job description for the county manager is a three-page document including a job summary, accountabilities, authorities, duties and responsibilities.

The summary describes the county manager as “the appointed chief executive position responsible for the direction, administration, financial management, and operation of agencies and departments of the County of Dukes County, Massachusetts. The position is accountable for the quality of county government service.”

The job description holds the manager accountable for the work of employees, department heads, policies, setting priorities, and developing strategy, and holding spending within budgeted levels, among other items.

It describes only administrative functions, and does not specifically mention hands-on maintenance and repair of county buildings.

Responsibilities

Mr. Smith is paid $63,532 annually. He is currently working under a six-month extension of his personal services contract, as county commissioners evaluate the position.

Although the county manager serves as the administrative manager for the seven county commissioners, the actual responsibilities of the job are limited.

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport, which by statute is under the control of the appointed airport commission and its professional airport manager, represents more than half of the county budget. State and federal regulations prohibit any use of airport revenue for non-airport related uses.

Last year, the sheriff’s office transferred operations from county to state control. The registry of deeds, and the office of the county treasurer are county departments headed by elected county officials who do not answer to the county manager and have direct control over their employees.

In terms of day-to-day supervision and responsibilities, the county manager oversees three people in three departments: the county manager’s office, veterans affairs, and integrated pest management.

In the current fiscal year, Dukes County assessed towns a total of $849,414 to operate the county government.

Town-meeting voters have no direct say in the assessment they must pay. Each town’s county assessment comes directly from what’s called the “cherry sheet,” which sets out the tax revenue allotted to the towns by the state government. The assessment cannot be amended on the town-meeting floor and does not show up on the operating budget.

Taxpayers must rely first on the county commissioners to exercise fiscal oversight and ultimately on the members of the county’s finance advisory board, which includes one selectman from each town.

In the current fiscal year, county assessments by town are: Chilmark, $128,024; Edgartown, $305,423; Aquinnah, $31,459; Gosnold, $11,360; Oak Bluffs, $126,276; Tisbury, $126,276; West Tisbury, $120,596.

In addition to the annual assessment, the six Island towns appropriated $164,958 to fund 80 percent of the county’s Integrated Pest Management and Health Care Access programs. Next year they will be asked to fund 90 percent of those programs, and the following year, 100 percent.

Oak Bluffs selectmen did not include $5,795 requested to fund its share of the integrated pest management program in the current town budget. Voters rejected that request as part of a Proposition 2.5 override ballot question, and rejected it again when it was included in a special town meeting warrant article.