Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee assumes part-time duties

John Bugbee, an advisor now, has been Tisbury's town administrator since 2004. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee stepped down from full-time duties and running the day-to-day operations of his office on October 24, following an executive session meeting with the town’s selectmen.

Although Mr. Bugbee’s contract was due to expire on June 30, 2013, the selectmen announced at a meeting in September that they would be hiring a new town administrator at the end of the year.

“Based on what the selectmen thought was best for the town, we decided to part ways and move forward,” selectmen Jeff Kristal told The Times in a phone conversation last week. Although it would be illegal to comment on any specifics about personnel issues discussed in executive session, Mr. Kristal said, “We made the determination John would be employed through December 31, and he will continue to work with us during the transition period.”

Given that Mr. Bugbee’s role is now mostly advisory, the selectmen asked assistant town administrator Aase Jones to serve as the interim town administrator while a search committee works to find his replacement.

“I plan to help the selectmen’s office with some of the remaining projects that will continue to need attention,” Mr. Bugbee said in a recent phone conversation with The Times from off Island. “However, my time spent in town hall from this point forward will be limited.”

A change in course

The selectmen’s decision to cut Mr. Bugbee’s contract short by several months was announced by selectman chairman Tristan Israel at a meeting on September 4.

“The Tisbury board of selectmen has made a decision to change its course and hire a new town administrator, after we set up and conduct a search process to find the best individual available,” Mr. Israel read from a prepared statement. “This is simply about a change and a re-energizing of our administration, and nothing more.

“We are grateful for the nine years our current administrator, John Bugbee, has been with us, and the hard work he has done on behalf of the town,” he added. “It is our hope he will remain with us for the next two to four months. The board wishes only the best for John in his future endeavors.”

In speaking with The Times recently, Mr. Bugbee said he really loved working in Tisbury and would miss it.

“My time in Tisbury was a wonderful experience I’ll remember forever, and remember fondly, as I had great people to work with,” Mr. Bugbee said. “And not only were they great, hard workers that did excellent work for the town of Tisbury, but I made friendships that were equally important. I think all of that helps the town function smoother, when you have both elements come together as one. Everyone is on the same page with the same goals, and I think Tisbury benefits from that type of dynamic.”

In the interim

The Tisbury selectmen chose Mr. Bugbee to be the town administrator on February 24, 2004, and he assumed his duties on March 29. Mr. Bugbee’s current contract ran from July 20, 2010, through June 29, 2013. Under the terms of the agreement, the selectmen could terminate Mr. Bugbee at any time for any reason, without cause, in which case the town must pay him “through the balance of the contract term, but for not more than 60 calendar days.”

In a phone conversation with The Times last week, Mr. Israel said Mr. Bugbee’s reduction in full-time duties falls within the selectmen’s expected timeframe.

There are some “minor negotiations” underway between Mr. Bugbee and the selectmen on the amount due to him for his salary and benefits through December 31, Mr. Israel added. Mr. Bugbee’s salary for fiscal year 2013 is $116,134.56, which is Step 7, the top step of the town’s managerial pay scale.

When asked if Ms. Jones would receive compensation for her extra duties as interim town administrator, Mr. Israel said she volunteered to do the work without more pay. Since Tisbury has a history of compensating town employees who assume more responsibilities, he added, the selectmen would likely revisit the idea of a stipend for Ms. Jones later.

“I’m not doing this for the money,” Ms. Jones reiterated to The Times in a phone conversation last week. “I’m glad to do it and feel honored the selectmen asked me. I’m doing it because I can and because I want to, out of love and care for this town.”

This is not the first time Ms. Jones, a 29-year town employee, has stepped up to the plate as interim town administrator. “I’ve done it before, and I have a lot of experience and knowledge of the job, so I’m the most likely one to do it,” she said. “It’s not where I want to stay, but I will hold down the fort.”

The help and support of a great group of colleagues also makes it possible for her to do the job, Ms. Jones said, such as town clerk Marion Mudge, treasurer and tax collector Tim McLean, town accountant Suzanne Kennedy, and Hillary Conklin, the selectmen’s administrative secretary.

“I’m confident I can do it, but the most important thing is I have the confidence and support of the board of selectmen,” Ms. Jones added. “I’m going to be soldiering on, doing what I can, and make it work.”

Search underway

In preparation for Mr. Bugbee’s departure, the Tisbury selectmen appointed a search committee last month to find his replacement. The committee includes board of health member Michael Loberg, Tisbury finance and advisory committee member Robert Doyle, and Tisbury port council representative George Balco. Tim McLean, the town’s treasurer and tax collector, and Hillary Conklin, the selectmen’s administrative assistant and municipal union representative, also serve on the committee to represent town employees.

“First of all, we’re really excited about our search committee, because we think it’s a very high-powered, capable group of people,” Mr. Israel said. “Secondly, one of the things we’re blessed with is a veteran staff. We’re not concerned that the day-to-day operations of town hall will suffer, because they are all very experienced and know what they’re doing. Also, we’ve told Aase we will support her in any issues above and beyond the day-to-day duties.”

Mr. Israel said the selectmen told the search committee not to be concerned if they are unable to complete the process by the end of the year.

“We do hope to get someone in by the end of the year, but we’re more concerned that they find the right person,” he said. “Because the town employees know what they’re doing, there is no need to rush to get a new town administrator in place. It’s better to get it right.”

The search committee has already met and advertised the town administrator job in The Times, Vineyard Gazette, Cape Cod Times, and the Beacon, the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s monthly publication. Responses are due by November 30 and the committee will start interviewing candidates in December, Ms. Conklin told The Times in a recent phone call. She said the committee has already received a couple of responses.