Clark Says He Lacks Votes For A New Contract
Alan Pollock, Cape Cod Chronicle
February 18, 2016
February 18, 2016
HARWICH — Saying he doesn’t have support from a majority of the board to extend his contract as town administrator, Christopher Clark is looking for a new job.
Clark said it’s the first time in more than 25 years in municipal government that he’s been shown the door. “I’ve always gotten along reasonably well with board members” in the other communities where he’s worked, Clark said. In a closed-door session last Wednesday, the board of selectmen discussed the town administrator’s request for a three-year contract extension. Board of Selectmen Chairman Peter Hughes said most of the hour-long executive session was devoted to this topic, though no formal vote was taken. After the board’s regular open session that followed, Hughes said he told the town administrator that it was his sense that only two members of the five-member board favored offering him a contract extension.
In light of that news, Clark told The Chronicle that he will soon begin searching for his next position. The town administrator’s current contract expires on June 30.
It’s not clear when, or if, selectmen will vote on Clark’s request for reappointment. A provision of the contract requires the board to notify Clark before March 30 that they do not intend to renew the agreement, otherwise his contract is automatically extended by a year.
Clark characterized the situation as a disagreement between board members who think selectmen should have an active role in the day-to-day management of town government and those who feel the board should focus on policy decisions.
“I read the charter. I follow the charter,” Clark said.
The town administrator said he has been achieving or making progress toward goals set out by the board and recently presented a balanced budget that expanded services without the need for Proposition 2½ over- ride. Clark said town departments are functioning more cooperatively now than they did when he arrived, and there is a renewed emphasis on customer service.
In his most recent performance evaluation from the board last April, Clark said he received ratings of “satisfactory” or higher from every member except Linda Cebula. Since that time, two members departed and Jannell Brown and Michael MacAskill joined the board. After that evaluation, Clark received his contractual pay increase, “which means that my performance has been satisfactory.”
Clark’s tenure has been marked by a number of staff controversies. He and then-Assistant Town Administrator Julie Quintero-Schulz were the subject of an investigation that prompted her to be placed on administrative leave; she later resigned. Previously, then-Water Department Superintendent Craig Wiegand was placed on paid administrative leave after allegations were made against him by employees; he resigned his post after reaching a settlement agreement with the town.
Two golf department employees, golf director Dennis Hoye and golf pro Joe Mc-Nulty, both resigned after having been placed on leave, and the reasons behind their departure, as well as Wiegand and Quintero-Schulz’s leaving, were not made public.
Citing the fact that the board placed him under investigation, Clark explored other job opportunities and was a finalist for Brewster’s town administrator position, though he was not offered the job. In two years, the town has lost one-third of its department heads or assistant department heads, but a number of those staff changes were related to retirements, and one was prompted by an unexpected death.
Clark said he anticipated opposition from at least one member of the board besides Cebula but didn’t expect the majority of selectmen to be against extending his contract. He said he was sincerely interested in serving another three years.
“I really do think the world of the employees and the organization,” he said.
Clark said his “underperforming” rating by Cebula last year was the first such rating he had received in his career, and he characterized it as “unfair, and quite honestly, unprofessional.” Clark motioned to a white board on the wall of his office and said he has been making progress on the goals set for him by the board.
“How can you rate somebody down when they advance the goals?” he asked.
Asked about the board’s discussion last Wednesday, Cebula declined comment. She said it would be inappropriate for her to disclose executive session deliberations.
Clark said he is proud of the town’s staff and their focus on community service. Employees seem happy to come to work each day, in contrast with the “acrimony” present in town hall during the tenure of the previous town administrator, he noted. “You had departments that wouldn’t communicate,” Clark said.
He also said he’s proud of the state of the police department, which has strong leadership and a deputy chief’s positiondespite the retirement, or impending retirement, of the chief and two staff leaders.
Clark said he believes that the day-today operation of the town must be carried out by a professional administrator, not by selectmen or other committees. When a person calls 911 for an ambulance, they need it to arrive in a certain number of minutes. “That’s not subject to debate,” he said. Town government is essentially a delivery system for public services, Clark noted.
His tenure in Harwich has come at a high personal cost, Clark said. “I separated my family in half for nine months” to take the job, commuting to his home off-Cape on the weekends. Particularly during the investigation, “It has been exceptionally hard on my wife and me, and on the kids,” he said.
Clark has three children, two who are away in college, and a third daughter, Meadow Grace, who’s a student at Monomoy Middle School.
“Meadow Grace has asked me to try and get a job on Cape Cod,” Clark said. They are currently renting a home in Osterville, and his wife commutes off-Cape.
Clark said his job search will begin immediately. He said he’s hopeful that Harwich will be able to find a town administrator who’s a better fit.
“When I come into an organization, my responsibility is to leave it better than I found it,” Clark said. “I’m confident I achieved this.”