Town Administrator To Step Down

By: Alan Pollock

Harwich Town Administrator Christopher Clark.  FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — Following a closed-door session with selectmen Monday, Town Administrator Christopher Clark announced that he will not seek reappointment to the post he has held since 2014.

With emotion in his voice, Clark said he intends to pursue other employment opportunities “and be more available to my family in the short term. I have enjoyed my time in Harwich and think the world of the staff and board members that I have had the chance to interact with during my time.”

Clark’s last day in the office will be Nov. 15. For two months following that date, he will technically be on a leave of absence, but he will continue to receive his regular compensation until his contract expires on June 30. Monday’s meeting was Clark’s last with the board of selectmen; until a new town administrator is hired, the day-to-day operation of the town will be overseen by Assistant Town Administrator Joe Powers.

Clark said he is proud of his accomplishments while in Harwich, including “providing financial stability, meeting the challenges of new schools, wastewater and achieving a AAA bond rating.”

“I like to think I leave things better than I found them,” he added.

Acknowledging that the decision may seem sudden, Clark said it comes by mutual understanding with the board.

“I’m not wanting to prolong things. I like to make a decision and move on,” he said.

Board Chairman Larry Ballantine thanked Clark.

“We’ll take this time in the next couple months to reassess where we’re going and get ready for the upcoming year,” he said.

Selectman Stephen Ford acknowledged Clark’s “obviously very personal concern for the town of Harwich,” and acknowledged the mutual decision for him to leave. “I just want him to know how much we appreciate how he’s handled it,” Ford said.

Board member Ed McManus agreed, and thanked Clark “for all that he’s done for the town over the years, and for the way he has approached where we are right now.”

When the board of selectmen discussed Clark’s job evaluation in May, it was clear that his support from the five-member board was tenuous. Two members, Donald Howell and Michael MacAskill, provided scores that were well below the level needed to justify Clark’s annual cost of living increase. All tolled, Clark received a cumulative score of 65.3, just over the passing grade of 65 points.

After his announcement Monday, Clark received hugs and handshakes from some of those at the meeting. Some town employees looked stunned by the news. Interviewed on Tuesday, Ballantine said while the announcement might have seemed sudden, “I think when people look at it, it’s probably not a surprise at all.”

Clark had told the board “he has some personal issues to attend to,” Ballantine said, and it’s also been no secret that his support from selectmen has been patchy.

“We’ve had the split board, with sometimes acrimonious discussions,” Ballantine said. Most recently, Clark received sharp criticism from some board members for his management of the wastewater plan implementation. Faced with escalating costs for the East Harwich sewer installation, those selectmen criticized Clark’s leadership and the performance of the town’s wastewater consultants.

Given these and other issues, “I think it was fairly clear that we had some issues we had to iron out,” Ballantine said. Until a new administrator is hired, selectmen will take some time for introspection, he said.

“One thing we’ll do is have some sessions where we’ll see if we can better define common ground,” the chairman said. “There’s no reason that we will all agree on everything, nor should we,” he said. But the board of selectmen should be able to conduct “at least a courteous and rational discussion, and we can set the example for that.”