Dukes County manager to remain a full-time job

County manager Russell Smith and commission chairman Melinda Loberg at the February 8 county commission meeting. — File photo by Steve Myrick

Dukes County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to search for a new full-time county manager, to replace outgoing manager Russell Smith. The vote followed a debate over the scope of the future manager’s duties.

Mr. Smith resigned last month, effective May 1, in the aftermath of a botched bidding and contract process for a Dukes County Courthouse window repair project.

Earlier this year, commissioners adopted a legislative change that allows for a part-time county manager.

Commissioner Tristan Israel said he was getting pressure from constituents to change the structure of county government. Others said that the salary, budgeted at $63,250, would not attract top candidates.

The commissioners decided to begin their search for a new manager this week, by advertising the position as a full-time job.

“I’m not looking for someone that wants to work part-time,” commissioner Lenny Jason of Chilmark said. “I’m looking for someone that understands the political atmosphere of the Island, somebody who understands the relationship between the towns, which are very parochial, and the county.”

Time is money

Mr. Israel of Tisbury raised the possibility of hiring a part-time county manager. “I think a part-time model could work,” he said. “I’m also looking at the amount of money available. We have so much money allocated for administration, and it ain’t a lot.”

Chairman Melinda Loberg said she is concerned about attracting qualified candidates. She raised the possibility that the commission may have to increase the salary.

“It seems as if the county’s web has expanded,” Ms. Loberg said. “We do need a pretty skilled person to keep a lot of balls in the air at the same time. I think we’re looking for a miracle worker, and we’re only going to pay them $65,000.”

County treasurer Noreen Mavro-Flanders, who receives an annual salary of $93,245, served as both treasurer and acting county manager for the six months preceding Mr. Smith’s tenure. She said the position is a full-time job.

“Not only is it what you see when you come to meetings,” Ms. Mavro-Flanders said, “but there are day-to day things that consistently require bits and pieces, require oversight.”

She said the public, and sometimes the commissioners, are not aware of some of the manager’s duties. She cited the GIS mapping system. The county holds the license for the mapping software used by town assessors and planners.

But, Mr. Israel disputed the idea that the county manager is responsible. “The GIS, most of that information comes out of your office,” he said.

“No it does not,” Ms. Mavro-Flanders said.

“When we come to meetings, you’re the person that’s giving that information, and that clarification,” Mr. Israel said.

Job description

Commissioner Tom Hallahan, who participated by video conference from Jordan, where he is on a teaching assignment, said a job summary that may be used as a basis for recruiting candidates is misleading.

“The way it’s worded makes it sound like the county manager has jurisdiction over all the agencies,” Mr. Hallahan said. “We know that’s not the case. I would like to rephrase it to make it more reality based.”

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, accounts for more than half of the county budget.

The sheriff’s office is now under 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. Each has direct control over their employees.

In terms of day-to-day supervision and responsibilities, the county manager oversees three people in three departments, his office, veterans affairs, and integrated pest management. Wednesday, Mr. Smith took exception to the description of the job published in several Martha’s Vineyard Times articles.

“I know it’s widely reported that my job is managing three people,” Mr. Smith said. “I can tell you I’ve had no trouble staying busy.”

He said his work on various projects may be the issue that prompted commissioners to look for a new manager. “The projects that come and go represent a majority of the manager’s time,” Mr. Smith said. “Maybe what you want is someone who is more administrative, but the way it’s been is more project-oriented.”

The four commissioners present, including Mr. Israel, voted in favor of advertising for a full-time county manager.

Commissioner John Alley of West Tisbury arrived at the meeting late and did not participate in the discussion.

Commissioner Carlene Gatting of Edgartown did not attend. Les Leland of West Tisbury resigned his seat on February 22 for health reasons.