Dukes County commissioners name new county manager

— File photo by Steve Myrick

The Dukes County commissioners Wednesday named Katherine Rogers, a lawyer and resident of Concord, New Hampshire, to be the newest county manager, the sixth since 1994.

The choice was not made easily. Commissioners wrangled long and hard. At issue was the choice between an Island resident and an off-Island resident.

The commissioners made their selection from a short list of five selected by a subcommittee. The new county manager will replace Russell Smith who ended his tenure on May 1.

The five finalists were Christopher Knowles, health director for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah); Jessica Burgoyne, property manager for the Morgan Woods affordable housing development in Edgartown; Martina Thornton, executive assistant to the county manager since 2008; Jeffrey Madison, a lawyer and former Aquinnah selectman; and Ms. Rogers.

Commissioners Melinda Loberg of Tisbury, Tom Hallahan of Oak Bluffs, Lenny Jason of Chilmark, Beth Toomey of West Tisbury, and Carlene Gatting of Edgartown voted for Ms. Rogers.

Tristan Israel of Tisbury and longtime commissioner John Alley of West Tisbury voted against.

“While we didn’t say we would not bring someone who didn’t live here, we certainly suggested strongly that we wanted someone who was living here,” Mr. Israel, a Tisbury selectman and landscaper, said. “Someone walks in and interviews very well, the woman seems very qualified and experienced. I think there is a bit of rolling of the dice with someone who is not familiar with the Island, who does not live here, who says they will move here, who doesn’t know any of the players here. We are a body that has had a tumultuous history. I’m very concerned we are rolling the dice.”

Mr. Israel and Mr. Alley also expressed concern about the process of picking a county manager. After interviews last week, commissioners were asked to rank the final five candidates. Ms. Rogers received three first place votes, and a total score of 16, with the low score ranking best.

Current assistant county manager Martina Thornton received two first place votes, and a score of 19.

Ms. Gatting said she felt Ms. Rogers was a clear choice. “I felt her level of presentation, experience, demeanor, the whole package rose significantly above the other candidates,” Ms. Gatting, a lawyer, said.

Commissioner Jason grew frustrated with the discussion. “This is driving me crazy,” he said. “We went out to find the best person to be county manager no matter where they lived. The [county] charter says they have to live here, so if they don’t live here, we’ll get rid of them.”

County commissioners authorized the chairman, Ms. Loberg, to begin negotiations with Ms. Rogers. The amount alloted in the current budget for county manager is $63,500. In its search for candidates, the commission advertised a salary range of $60,000 to $75,000.

In advertising the position, the county said “a bachelor’s degree and familiarity with and residence on the island are preferable. The successful candidate should have five to seven years management experience, preferably within government, as well as strong financial management, personnel management, grant writing and strategic planning experience.”

Until 1993, three elected, paid county commissioners presided over county government affairs and departments not under the control of elected officials.

In 1994, voters created a new form of county government that delegated general legislative powers to the seven-member board of unpaid commissioners, while giving the county manager full control over the county administration.

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

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