'Final' Contract for Town Administrator Splits Select Board

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Board of Selectmen News

Town Administrator John Kelly, seen here voting at a town meeting several years ago, has extended his contract for another three years. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS By a 3-2 margin last week, the select board approved a three-year contract for Town Administrator John Kelly.

“I’ve served the town for nearly 24 years,” Kelly told the board, “and I remain committed to the town of Orleans… I expect this will be my final contract in Orleans and I want to see a smooth transition go forward.”

That transition is something that board members Mark Mathison and Cecil Newcomb wanted to see sooner rather than later.

“I’m actually embarrassed that we’re about to do this,” Newcomb said before the vote, which followed one of several executive sessions on the matter. “Mr. Kelly received a 3.2 evaluation, which is subpar in my estimation. Then he refused to take anything less than a three-year contract. I feel he’s holding us hostage here.”

“John Kelly has served this town for a long time,” Mathison said. “He brought us to where we are today. I feel we need to be looking at changes for the future, that we can’t continue to operate the way we operated all these years.”

Mathison said the town “responded as well as it could” to the pandemic, but that its impact “highlighted shortcomings of the town to be really able to operate in the 21st century, and we need to make a move to get people on board that can get us fully operational in the 21st century. I think a three-year deal is not where I wanted to go, especially with big pay raises. I had a problem with the way this negotiation went.”

Mefford Runyon, who joined fellow board members Andrea Reed and chair Kevin Galligan in approving the contract, said his vote was “driven mostly by the circumstances we find ourselves in now, both in terms of the uncertainty of the future and what has been reported to me as a very weak job market for replacements. It’s a risk assessment for the town, which is the bigger risk, staying the course or looking for someone else. I’m feeling a little risk-averse at the moment.”

Reed did not comment on the contract in the public session, but Galligan said, “Like Andrea said, we want this to be not only successful for us but successful for John’s professional career. I think that’s the example I want to leave in terms of shaking his hand both now as we vote to sign but also in two years when we begin the transition to hiring the next town administrator in an orderly manner… This to me is the right decision to make.”

The outcome might have been different if former selectman David Currier had not lost his re-election bid in June. He had been critical of operations at town hall, urging a more business-friendly approach and greater responsiveness to citizen inquiries and concerns. Contacted by email, Currier declined to comment.

At the board’s Aug. 5 meeting, Galligan discussed Kelly’s annual performance review, which was conducted by the incumbent members other than Reed, who joined the board in June. He described the 3.2 overall performance grade (on a scale of 1 to 5) as “slightly above average” and noted that the mark for achieving goals and objectives was 2.2 (on a scale of 1 to 3). Galligan said performance strengths included Kelly’s response to the pandemic and fiscal management (the latter earning a 3.7, his top mark) and observed that citizen relations (2.8) “is an area to improve on.”

Galligan said he’d met with the town administrator to encourage him to build on his work during the pandemic to increase his effectiveness. Kelly will provide regular updates to the board on grant activity and progress on meeting its goals, as well as work on the town’s fee structure and laying the groundwork for enterprise funds. More will be done on compensation structures and pay packages to ensure that the town remains competitive in the labor market, and special attention is required for the downtown sewer and Nauset Estuary dredging projects.

“I think you covered it,” Kelly said Aug. 5 when invited to comment. “I certainly understand what the board is looking to do, and I look forward to working on those (matters) this next year.”

For the current fiscal year, Kelly will be paid $171,916, which will rise to $180,500 in the fiscal year beginning in July 2021. In the following year, according to the contract, his salary will reflect “the same general cost of living increases granted to other non-union full-time employees.”