Town Administrator To Town Manager? Orleans Officials Consider Title Change

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Orleans news , town charter , town administrator

John Kelly has been town administrator in Orleans since 1996.The select board and charter review committee on Oct. 13 discussed a possible job title change from town administrator to town manager. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS – What's in a name?

When it comes to the difference between a town administrator and a town manager, John Kelly says there is more than meets the eye.

The select board on Oct. 13 held a joint hearing with the town's charter review committee, which asked the board for input on some possible changes it is exploring to the town charter. That includes a possible title change from town administrator to town manager.

The charter review committee looks into changes to the town's governing document every seven years, committee chairman Jon Fuller said.
Kelly has been town administrator in Orleans since 1996. He said the difference between the two job titles rests largely in appointment authority, as well as who is recognized as the town's chief executive officer.

"The semantics of the title don't mean much," he told the charter review committee. "It's what's behind the title."

As town administrator, Kelly does not have the authority to appoint board and committee members, a responsibility that instead rests with the five-member select board. Kelly said he's happy with this arrangement and that he wouldn't recommend sharing appointment authority with the select board.

"Today, I don't see much need to have a segregated appointment process."

As the town's chief procurement officer, Kelly has the authority to apply for and sign off on grants on behalf of the town. But he said there are occasionally instances that require the signature of the town's CEO. A town manager would have that authority to act in those instances. But as town administrator, Kelly must defer in those cases to the select board, which he said is the town's CEO and chief policy making authority.

Some select board members voiced support for a title change. Mefford Runyon said from a marketing standpoint, it might be easier to hire for a town manager position than a town administrator. Kelly is currently in what he has said is his last contract with the town.

Andrea Reed said she would like to see the job description updated in such a way that the administrator role acts as "a CEO position bundled with a [chief financial officer] position for the financial health of the town."

"A lot of things have changed in how we do business," she said. "The select board needs to get to creating the policies the town needs for daily operations, and we are not in a position to do that when we are dealing really with daily operations."

For select board member Kevin Galligan, the key is maximizing town operations.

"Any way we can squeeze more efficiency into responding to community needs, that's all I want to do," he said. "Whether it's a manager or an administrator...that's all we want to do is not have holdups."

Patricia Fallender of the charter review committee raised the question of whether the select board should be relieved of its role as the town's licensing authority. She suggested handing that responsibility to the town administrator could help lighten the board's workload.

Provincetown has its own separate licensing board, Kelly noted, but he said he is not aware of another town on Cape in which the town administrator acts as his or her town's licensing authority.

"I would not be in favor of that," he said. "I think that is clearly a role that a board needs to have."

The select board reviews annual license applications each December and seasonal applications in the spring. Kelly said the town has a system in place where staff handle applications, inspections and other administrative work before bringing the select board a list of recommended renewals. He also said there may be limitations under state statute as to what license approvals can be delegated.

The charter review committee also asked the select board about what can be done to tighten up the annual and special town meetings. The committee questioned whether some items that typically go before voters at the spring and fall sessions might not need to be included in the warrants.

Galligan agreed, lamenting the often slow pace at which the sessions typically operate.

"We can keep the spirit, but people want us to move town meeting along quicker than we're doing," he said.

Specifically, Runyon said small funding requests, including those less than $100, should be scrapped from future warrants.

"I'm not going to give up on that, because to me that's the most ridiculous thing that happens at town meeting."

The subject of creating a universal code of conduct for volunteers and elected officials and town staff also was discussed with the charter review committee. Galligan pointed out that the police and fire departments, as well as the finance committee, each have their own specific codes of conduct.

Runyon expressed support for the idea, but Kelly said having a one-size-fits-all policy may not be as easily applicable to town employees as it would for appointed and elected board and committee members. Employees' collective bargaining agreements include "disciplinary sections," he said, while committee members are entitled to a public hearing before the select board if their removal is in consideration.

"I think you need to keep those separate," he said.

Mark Mathison of the select board also noted that a universal code of conduct would also require someone delegated to enforcing it.

"You don't have a principal  or vice principal around here who's going to drag you into the office," he said.

The charter committee also asked about whether the town is working on a succession plan to replace staff members who are on track to retire in the coming years. Reed was emphatic, saying the answer is "a resounding yes."

"We're on it," she said.

Fuller said the charter review committee hopes to have a public hearing in February, where it will present its recommended charter changes for next year's annual town election.

"It's a lofty goal, but if we work at it I think we can meet that," he said.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com