HARWICH — Town Administrator Christopher Clark will have to wait until after this week's election to see if he can win a two-year extension to his contract, selectmen decided Monday.
There was support for extending the contract. Outgoing Selectman Peter Hughes cited the favorable review of the board and suggested they should be moving forward. But the three remaining selectmen were more comfortable having that decision made by the members who will be working with Clark in the coming year.
In general, selectmen have cited a better working relationship over the past several months between Clark and the board. His performance has been described by members as above average over that period. Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill had cited the residual turmoil and ongoing tension between Clark and the board last year and at the start of this year as the reasons for the town administrator not receiving a merit-based pay increase.
“Unfortunately, the breakdown in communication and collaboration turned into another contentious issue and negative headline for the town,” MacAskill stated in his evaluation. “Despite the fact that the town administrator did not support the board's goals and objectives, Mr. Clark, and through his leadership, has completed the majority of them and is well on the way to completing the rest.”
“Overall, I am very satisfied with the town administrator's performance on the board's goals and objectives. It would be preferable moving forward to have goals and objectives that the board and Mr. Clark have created and agreed upon together,” MacAskill said.
MacAskill said Clark did an excellent job preparing the capital plan and the FY18 budget. Documents were very informative and well presented, he said, and Clark showed great leadership skills in wastewater negotiations with the town of Chatham and good leadership in initial discussions with Dennis and Yarmouth.
The town administrator and staff were also praised for doing an outstanding job preparing for the annual town meeting and providing backup educational materials which were displayed on slides for voters. Clark's communication with the selectmen was also cited by MacAskill as much improved in the latter half of this year.
MacAskill emphasized the need for Clark or his assistant to be available in the office for residents and town officials to resolve issues that may come up on a daily basis. There were also requests for more frequent updates on activities within town departments and weekly email updates to selectmen.
“It is my opinion that Mr. Clark has earned an above satisfactory review and should receive his merit increase for FY18. I would, however, like to make it clear that my performance evaluation is not to be tied to a new contract,” MacAskill stated.
Selectman Julie Kavanagh said Clark worked diligently on the wastewater intermunicipal agreement with Chatham. She also praised him for working with unions to negotiate new contracts with increases that are manageable for the town and working toward the financial goal of obtaining a triple-A bond rating.
Selectman Jannell Brown said Clark realized much success in FY17, and his ability to adjust to the new system of detailed goals and objectives presented by selectmen, though unsettling at first, has proven itself, she said.
“While it was disappointing to have Mr. Clark apply for a number of TA jobs in other organizations during FY17, it was ultimately a relief when he decided to stop that and assure the board his commitment to Harwich is tantamount and that he intends to retire from our organization no sooner than 10 years from now,” Brown stated. “All in all I am very satisfied with Mr. Clark's efforts this year.”
“Based on his achievements to date, I believe that his performance should be classified at least as satisfactory or even possibly excellent. He should be offered a salary increase consistent with the town goals. In addition, I recommend his contract be reviewed to determine what time extension should be offered,” Selectman Angelo LaMantia stated.
Selectman Peter Hughes said Clark is a good representative of the town within the community. He said Clark understands the system and how to accomplish things within its constraints.
“Chris has experienced unfavorable performance evaluations with no merit-based salary improvements which have prompted him to explore other opportunities. The board has had to endure the uncertainty of a town administrator who out of necessity has interviewed for several open positions elsewhere,” Hughes stated.
“I suggest the board give Chris a favorable evaluation plus a 2½ percent adjustment effective July 1, 2017. Furthermore I suggest the TA's contract be extended for a minimum of two years.”
Selectmen voted a 2 percent salary adjustment last week, but Clark will have to wait and see what happens with the contract extension.
The selectmen on Monday night approved a new three-year contract for Fire Chief Norman Clarke, Jr. He had one year left on his extension. The new contract provides six weeks of vacation, up from five, and a 2 percent salary increase per year, plus a $2,000 wage adjustment, which board members said would bring his salary up to where it should be.