Job descriptions in Hamilton, Wenham and how cooperation fits into government workings
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Hamilton has a town manager: Joe Domelowicz. Wenham has a town administrator: Anthony Ansaldi. What’s the difference and how important are differences for towns that make decisions together and share a school system and a library?
“Generally, town manager positions have more authority to negotiate and execute contracts and manage the day-to-day operations of the town government, without needing selectmen approval,” Domelowicz said. “The town manager is expected to execute the policies approved by selectmen, develop the budget and capital plans and otherwise direct all the work of the town through various departments. As manager I oversee all hiring and even make recommendations for the staff positions that statutorily must be appointed by selectmen and have the authority to discipline staff, including terminating, if necessary.
“Administrator positions tend to have a bit less authority to act without selectmen approval and all hiring and firing decisions are made by selectmen, depending on the strength of the specific administrator position,” he continued. “Some administrator positions are written stronger than others, as are some manager positions.”
“Despite Joe being a manager and me an administrator, I see very few obstacles and major differences in our duties to achieve goals for our communities,” Ansaldi said.
Although the administrator model adds a level of decision making to affairs, namely the selectmen, Wenham Board of Selectmen Chairman Jack Wilhelm doesn’t believe that slows things down.
“The manager is the chief executive officer of Hamilton, but in Wenham it’s the selectmen,” he said. “Hamilton voted to change to a manager system. We did not, but most day-to-day decisions are made by our administrator, similar to Hamilton.”
“The amount of power that a town manager or administrator has depends on the wording of the charter adopted by a municipality,” reads a 2010 Massachusetts Municipal Managers Association Form of Government Committee Study on Structural Changes in Local Government in Massachusetts from the Clark University Masters of Public Administration Capstone Project by Arianna Schudrich and Michael Smith. “Managers tend to have more central authority than an administrator. As chief administrative officer, the person has many different obligations that range from supervising the administration to ensure its efficiency to coordinating activities of departments. Depending on the charter, the selectmen may also have the ability to veto some of the manager’s (or administrator’s) appointments.”
In a 2006 article in the New Hampshire Municipal Association’s Town and City Magazine, Kimberly Hallquist writes, “By adopting the town manager form of government, the legislative body (Town Meeting) is placing some of the authority that would otherwise be held by selectmen into the hands of a non-elected official. The town administrator does not have these statutory powers and duties.
“While the manager is subject to the direction and supervision of selectmen, he or she assumes several important duties when appointed. For example, the manager becomes the administrative head of all town departments and has the authority to hire and fire employees under his or her control and to set salary. The manager also has the authority to approve the payment of bills incurred by the departments under his or her supervision, while an administrator (or administrative assistant, business manager or other similar titles) has no similar statutory authority, but instead works under the direct supervision of selectmen, which retains all of its statutory authority.”
In 2016, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue Division of Local Services City and Town Magazine reported, “The vast majority of towns now have an appointed professional, administrator-type position (260 towns, 88%). The ranges of work hours, salaries, oversight authority, and appointing powers among these officeholders vary quite widely, however. In 35 towns (12%), the select boards have appointed no administrator position, although there is usually a person performing at least a clerical function for selectmen. Job titles for the professional administrator in towns break out as follows: Town Administrator: 172 (58%), Town Manager: 63 (21%), Executive Secretary: 8 (3%); Town Coordinator: 6 (2%), other titles: 7 (2%).”
Based on the numbers, Ansaldi observed, “A manager is not necessarily considered a higher job.”
Sometimes, whether a facility sits in Hamilton or Wenham may affect the decision making process. Wenham operates the regional library because it is in the town, although Hamilton is assessed for costs.
“As it relates to the joint programs, it is also dependent on not only the specific manager/administrator positions, but also the contracts between towns and who is the lead entity,” Domelowicz explained. “There is more need for consensus and communication when working with an administrator in another town, because ultimately the other selectmen will have to be involved in the process, but it can usually be planned for and accommodated.
“For the recent decision to enter into shared services agreement with Manchester and Rockport for a shared human resources director, I was authorized to sign the agreement, but in Manchester, the selectmen signed the agreement,” he continued. “However, the negotiation of all the terms of the agreement and the hiring of the new director were left to myself and the administrators of the other two towns. The selectmen did not take part in that process, because Hamilton was the lead entity. If Manchester had been the lead entity, the Manchester Select Board would have been the hiring authority.”
In any event, it is important for everyone to get along.
“It’s been a great pleasure partnering with Joe on joint programs and developing projects,” Ansaldi said.
“Regardless of what the position is, manager or administrator, and how it is written, the working relationship between the manager or administrator and selectmen they answer to is the most critical piece of the puzzle,” Domelowicz said. “As for working with selectmen in Hamilton, even when I have the authority to act, I find it is important and helpful to be sure they know the actions I’m taking and why. For me, it has been an important part of building and maintaining the trust with the board.”
Given the overlap of services, Domelowicz sometimes attends the Wenham selectmen meetings in person or virtually as does Ansaldi for Hamilton. Wilhelm feels they work well together, but remembers with different people in their positions “that was not always the case.”