HARWICH — When selectmen were unable to reach a decision on the appointment of a new town administrator several weeks ago, they agreed to retain Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers for one year. On Monday, however, the board voted to extend Powers' appointment for 90 days.
The appointment will expire on Nov. 18. It would conclude a full year of service for Powers as interim town administrator.
Questions have been raised about the appointments and whether they comply with the town’s home rule charter, which only allows one renewal of an interim appointment. Powers is now on his third 90-day appointment as interim town administrator.
“I’m hearing concerns expressed by folks in town about limitations placed on us by the charter and our ability to make this appointment,” acting board chairman Stephen Ford said. “We’ve had extensive consultation with counsel and he believes strongly [that] with the situation we find ourselves in with COVID-19 issues and with the state giving us leeway to govern and also the charter interpretation itself” that there is no problem. “We do appreciate these concerns and wish we haven’t had to do this so many times in a row, but we have to at this time.”
Selectmen gave Powers the highest rating of the four town administrator finalists. But when it came time to vote, the board could not obtain the super-majority required to make the appointment. The town charter requires an affirmative vote of four members of the board to appoint a town administrator.
The initial motion of the board was for candidate Cathy Ann Vivreiros, former city administrator in Fall River. It failed on a 2-3 vote. Then the board considered a motion to appoint Powers, and that vote failed 3-2.
After some discussion, selectmen agreed to offer Powers the interim town administrator’s position for a one-year period. That vote required only a simple majority for approval. It passed. Selectmen at that time said they would look at compensation as they shaped a contract for Powers, who has been working in the interim town administrator capacity since Town Administrator Christopher Clark departed in November.
There is a provision in the town charter that states selectmen can appoint an acting town administrator. It states: “The appointment shall be for a period not to exceed 90 days, and it may be renewed, in the case of a suspension, removal, resignation, or death, only once for an additional period not to exceed 90 days. The appointee shall be eligible for appointment as town administrator.”
Ford said after Monday night’s meeting that Powers’ appointment had expired so it had to be renewed. The board and Powers have not yet reached agreement on a one-year contract, he said. Contract negotiations are ongoing, and Ford said the sentiment of the board is that it can be wrapped up soon.