Tisbury considers town manager role

In order to better implement the town's master plan, planners want to increase the authority of the town administrator.

Tisbury town hall. —MV Times

As Tisbury considers the work ahead for its master planning process, officials are looking to give the town administrator more authority over personnel and budget decisions. The role could also be retitled as a town manager, with broader powers.

Town administrator Jay Grande says that increasing his position’s authority would allow better execution of the master planning process. This would involve defining his position’s direct jurisdiction and responsibilities relative to the town select board and other town entities.

The Tisbury Vision Plan and Master Plan Goals, available on the Tisbury Master Plan homepage, recommend changing the town administrator to a town manager. “The plan proposes to create the position of town manager to manage and direct the Master Plan implementation process, with the select board serving as the chief goal setting and policy-making body of the Town,” the document reads.

Grande says that once the master plan is finalized, he will better know exactly how the administrator role might change. Any changes will require a Special Act, which is a document to be drafted by a town manager act advisory committee and presented to the select board. This committee is yet to be formed.

The act would then be voted on at a town meeting, and, if approved, sent to the state government on Beacon Hill for final approval.

Grande supports giving the town administrator or manager authority over all town personnel, including those that work for elected boards.

He also thinks that a town manager should have greater oversight of Tisbury’s financial concerns. “I think … all facilities profiting from construction, repair, maintenance of all town buildings, real and personal property, all that should be under the town manager’s authority, as well as all aspects of administration and finance,” Grande says.

What authorities the Special Act ends up delegating will be up to much future discussion. “To what extent that manifests itself in a Special Act could vary,” Grande says. “So I think there’s a lot of discussion that needs to take place in determining what the best fit is for the town of Tisbury.”

The Special Act, says Grande, might transfer some responsibilities of town committees or boards to the administrator or manager.

“I think as you get into it … there will be discussions about the personnel board, [and] the finance advisory committee,” he says. “There will be discussions about other entities … as they relate to those two entities [and] to town officials, because you can’t talk about the duties and responsibilities of the town administrator [or] town manager without getting into other jurisdictional areas of other boards and committees.”

Grande also says that the town would benefit from eliminating some of its committees and boards, of which there are currently over 26. He adds that the process to form a Special Act may also lead to some town entities taking on more of an advisory role than their current direct jurisdictional roles.

Grande also says that not all town committees currently report directly to the select board.

According to Grande, who says that he has worked on master plans in three other communities in his career, a more consolidated and streamlined town government has been a goal for years.

“When I first arrived here we did consolidate the public works under the select board. I think this is a natural progression that’s best responsive to how the government could be more effective going forward … I think there’s an expectation or a reliance, without granting the actual authority, that all of these things are totally under the authority of a town administrator. And they’re not, in the written form.”

He also says that increasing the administrator’s or manager’s scope would be a step in the right direction. “We’ll realize what I think all the select board have been working towards, which is to have the town administrator, in fact, run the day-to-day operations for the entirety of the town, not just the portion of it, and this would move us in that direction,” he says.

In 2016, a state-published review of municipal government structures reported that 58 percent of Massachusetts towns had a town administrator, and 21 percent had a town manager.

Grande says that if a Special Act passes, Tisbury would still be reliant on its small-town qualities. “The balance is [that] we are a small town. Current aspects of small towns will still exist, where there has to be a lot of civic engagement which you can’t necessarily do at the same level in a larger community … so you don’t want to totally operate in the absence of that strong volunteerism and civic engagement, because you do need volunteers to get things done.”

Grande says that the town manager act advisory committee could consist of nine members, and wants it to include former select board members, members of elected boards, and citizens.

The Tisbury Vision Plan and Master Plan Goals document includes an Implementation Program, with dozens of actions to be taken as part of the master plan. Many of these list a town manager as a responsible party, including to consolidate town offices into one facility, to evaluate and incorporate climate risks into Capital Improvement Plans, and more.

If the authorities of a town administrator or manager did not increase, Grande says that implementing the master plan could be a struggle. “First of all, I would have 26 boards and committees rowing, but not necessarily in the same direction, and the town administrator would have less control over the helm …  You can’t have all the rowers rowing in different directions and not listening to the pilot.”

Grande adds that Special Acts vary per community, and that some communities revisit theirs every so often to consider adjustments.


  1. The most powerful man in town government on the island complains “I’m not powerful enough”.

    Selectboard, please fire this man ASAP. The power has gone to his head so much that he can’t keep his mouth shut about it.

    And shame on this paper for publishing this without any pushback at all.

    • Thanks Bill; You have said what many of us have felt for a long time. This proposal is anti-democratic. Fire Jay Grande! Let’s have a vote and find out what the people think!

  2. Those who truly care about our Town know we have some serious problems in our town government. The Master Plan consultants have held public forums and discussed the issues in Tisbury and the differences between a Town Administrator and a Town Manager. It is an interesting discussion and well worth a closer look to see if a change in the form of government would work for Tisbury.

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