HARWICH — There has certainly been acrimony between some members of the board of selectmen and Town Administrator Christopher Clark over his nearly six-year tenure, and it has intensified over the past several months.
Clark announced last week he will not seek reappointment as town administrator when his term expires at the end of June. He reached an agreement with selectmen and will be leaving his position with the town on Friday.
In the transition agreement crafted with selectmen, Clark will be on a leave of absence, available to consult should his expertise be needed, through the end of June. He will continue to receive his salary unless he takes another job.
This past year has been a difficult period for Clark, who was told publicly by Selectman Michael MacAskill on a couple of occasions that the selectman had “no confidence” in the town administrator. In Clark’s evaluation conducted in May, MacAskill and Selectman Donald Howell provided extremely low ratings of the town administrator. Those grades were offset by higher marks from the majority of the board, so that Clark was able to receive a cost of living increase.
Clark has stated on a few occasions that there are family issues he has to address, and in recent weeks he has missed a few board of selectmen meetings. On Monday, Clark made it clear that family is the priority in his life and he has to address those issues.
“I appreciate the board coming up with the transition agreement, but it was my decision,” Clark said. “I appreciate the board no matter what, but I have to take time for my family.”
He said he has been thinking about leaving for the past two or three months, thinking about a new contract and how that would unfold, and what the next two or three years would look like.
Three members of the board would have probably supported a new contract, but that would have left a split board which would have had impacts.
“Having some acrimony was not beneficial to me from a personal perspective,” Clark said. “It’s a good opportunity to take stock. I’ve had a lot of successes in Harwich.”
Having served nearly six years, Clark said he is proud of his accomplishments, including AAA bond rating issued to the town from Standard and Poor, and agreements with town unions, first on a zero percent increase for four years and then working out two percent increases. Infrastructure improvements and grants for the three harbors, including the waterside and landside renovations at Saquatucket Harbor, were also highlights, and he praised the efforts of Harbormaster John Rendon in that initiative. A Cape town managers meeting was held at the dockside restaurant at the harbor this summer and a woman sitting next to the gathering overheard the conversation about the harbor renovations and remarked, “what a jewel you have here.”
But he also admits his salary in Harwich has not kept up with the market on Cape Cod or with increases for department heads. Some administration jobs start at $185,000. Clark’s salary is in the $165,000 range.
“It’s a little demoralizing,” he said. “I have a feeling I’d do OK in the market place.”
There have been a lot of challenges, Clark said, including the movement from the back of the pack of towns in sewering on Cape Cod to the front. He has had three finance directors and four assistant town administrators during his tenure, with long periods where he worked without an assistant and short of office staff. There have also been a number of retirements of long-term staff.
“I’ve said good bye with all my department heads,” Clark said. “We’ve built good departments with good people.”
Clark, 54, has been serving as a municipal administrator for 30 years and said he is proud of his ability to bring large and challenging projects to completion. When he came to Harwich, the new regional high school project was well underway, and he spoke of wanting to continue to serve on the Cape Tech High School building committee.
The agreement he has with selectmen terminates his appointment on the affordable housing trust as of Nov. 15.
This past year, Clark purchased a home in Harwich. He understood he would not be town administrator here forever, but said he likes it here and intends to stay.
“I like the town and I like the people,” he said. “I’d be open to coming back.”
For now Clark said he is looking forward to other options, and he has not ruled out returning to municipal administration. He has had discussions with a few head hunters about opportunities, but his plan now is to open a consulting business and work in the municipal and nonprofit fields.
“I have a lot of those types of skills,” Clark said.
With Clark’s departure on Friday, assistant town administrator Joseph Powers will take over as interim town administrator. Selectmen will be discuss whether to hire a temporary town administrator and how they will move forward in the hiring of a new town administrator.