Tisbury administrator John Bugbee will leave post months early

John Bugbee had little to smile about Tuesday night. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Tisbury selectmen, at their weekly meeting Tuesday, announced the departure of town administrator John Bugbee. Mr. Bugbee’s contract was to expire on June 30, 2013, but he will leave by the end of this year.

The only indication of the town management shakeup was a notation on the agenda under new business, “Contract Negotiations.”

Chairman Tristan Israel, the only current selectman who served on the board when Mr. Bugbee was hired in 2004, announced the change.

“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 said. “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. 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.”

A heavy silence followed Mr. Israel’s statement. Mr. Bugbee said nothing and appeared tense and uneasy.

Selectman Jon Snyder made no comment. Selectman Jeff Kristal was off-Island and absent.

The selectmen moved quickly to other business. The meeting, which began at 5 pm, ended a few minutes later, just before 6 pm, record time for Tisbury selectmen, whose meetings often last for hours.

No cause departure

Tisbury selectmen chose Mr. Bugbee to be the town administrator on February 24, 2004. He assumed his duties on March 29 of that year.

Prior to arriving in Tisbury, Mr. Bugbee had experience in public service as a former mayor’s aide in Newburyport and a legislative aide for former state Rep. Kevin Finnegan.

A native of Sandwich, he completed his master’s degree in public administration from Bridgewater State College, after taking the job as Tisbury’s town administrator.

His current contract runs from July 20, 2010, through June 29, 2013. 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.

Under the terms of the agreement, selectmen may 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.”

How it works

For many of those sitting in the Katharine Cornell Theater Tuesday, and regular close observers of town affairs, the announcement was anti-climatic. News of the selectmen’s decision not to renew Mr. Bugbee’s contract and his early departure had circulated around town for days.

Selectmen asked Mr. Bugbee to leave, and the only question was when, according to one source close to the discussions.

Reached by The Times Tuesday afternoon before the selectmen’s meeting, Mr. Bugbee, who lives in Fall River, said, “I will be here for a little while. The tentative date for my last day is January 1. I am extra appreciative of that, because it will help me tie up some of the loose ends here in town and wrap up some of the projects that not only myself, but others, have worked so hard to complete, for so long.”

Mr. Bugbee listed as pending projects the first round of Green Community grant purchases, the completion of the town’s ground-mounted solar array project, and the opening of the town’s new emergency services facility.

Asked if he was surprised by the selectmen’s request that he leave before his contract expired, or if it had been under discussion some time, Mr. Bugbee declined to comment.

“It’s the board’s prerogative, and it’s the nature of this business,” Mr. Bugbee said. “I’m grateful for the time I had here. I got to meet and work with some great people. This is where I got my start.”

Mr. Bugbee praised his co-workers. “There’s never enough time in the day to do everything that needs to be done. But we have a great team in Tisbury that works very well together. When the time comes for us to step up and get the work done, everyone works hard together to make sure that that happens, and I was lucky in that I walked into a great situation where the town and team does work very well together, and they’ll continue to work well together, I’m sure.”

Good with the bad

But it has not all been smooth sailing. In March, Tisbury’s board of registrars accused Mr. Bugbee of perjury and fraud after he claimed Tisbury residency in order to register to vote at the same time that he claimed residency in Fall River. Mr. Bugbee said it was a mistake.

As the town’s chief personnel officer, Mr. Bugbee’s relationship with members of the police department was further strained following the selectmen’s decision to fire veteran police Sergeant Robert Fiske, at the conclusion of an internal investigation and review of the officer’s actions on July 23, 2011, when a young babysitter was left alone, following a domestic assault, and later raped.

Asked to what extent recent events may have affected the selectmen’s decision to ask him to leave early, Mr. Bugbee had no clear answer.

“I don’t know – it’s hard for me to say. I did my best, and that’s really all I can say. Boards change and priorities change. That doesn’t mean that one side is right or wrong. It may just mean that sometimes the chemistry isn’t there and they’re looking for someone who is more in line with their priorities. I’m not speaking for the selectmen, however. You’ll have to ask them what the reason is.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it works sometimes. I’ll leave the rest up to the selectmen, since this is something that’s coming from them. All I can do is respond with my feelings on what it meant to work here and the team that was in place, and how I’ll miss the people I worked with.

“You go into this business knowing this can happen, so you’ve got to take the bad with the good.”

Lengthy resume

One of the projects Mr. Bugbee said he hopes to complete has to do with the town’s recent designation as a Green Community.

Mr. Bugbee spearheaded Tisbury’s efforts last year to meet the five criteria required for a Green Community designation by the state’s Department of Energy Resources (DOER). The town was named a Green Community in July by Governor Deval Patrick, for which it received an energy efficiency grant from the state for $140,925.

“We’ll be deciding what we’ll be doing with the money we received from the Green Communities grant award, such as how it could be best used and where it will be the most effective,” Mr. Bugbee said Tuesday.

Tisbury and Edgartown are two of seven Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) member towns on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod where the cooperative will install solar PV systems. Tisbury plans a solar array at the site of its old landfill off State Road. The solar photovoltaic system will be constructed on 10 acres of town land near the Park and Ride lot, a project that mirrors those under way in many Massachusetts towns, to use capped landfills.

“I would like to see the solar project through,” Mr. Bugbee said. “I don’t know if there will be shovels in the ground by January 1, but at least I can do everything I can to expedite the project to make sure it’s on a path to success in saving the town about $60,000 a year in utility bills, which will go a long way over the life of those solar panels. And of course, the emergency services facility, we all want to see that open and make sure it’s functioning correctly.”