OCA Meeting. Town Room, Amherst Town Hall. Photo: Art Keene

Present: Alisa Brewer, Darcy Dumont,  Evan Ross (chair and recorder), George Ryan and Sarah Swartz

The meeting was called to order at 9:34 AM.

The charge of OCA can be found here


1,  CLARIFYING OCA’S ROLE IN APPOINTMENT OF DEPARTMENT HEADS:  The committee discussed the Town Manager’s nomination for Director of Senior Services and spent most of the meeting discussing its own role in the appointment of department heads. Much of this boiled down to the desire on the part of several of the councilors to get more information on nominees and in a more timely manner and the Town Manager being reticent to do so, noting that it is his right to pick his own team without consultation with the Town Council (TC).  After considerable discussion the role of OCA and the TC in the Town Manager’s appointments (for both Department Heads – the primary focus of today’s meeting – and for appointments to multi-member bodies) remained unresolved. 

OCA noted that the charter requires that OCA either approve or reject the nominations of the Town Manager for department heads, but, as has been discussed with other Town Manager appointments, OCA lacks the information necessary to render a judgment.  The committee was divided on how to interpret the charter. Some felt that their job is to simply validate that there was no egregious violation of procedure and to not second guess the town manager’s judgment, while others argued for a more active and informed role.  The Town Manager suggested that the charter does not intend for the council to play an active role in the administration of Town Hall. While OCA and the Town Manager seemed to agree that there were certain kinds of information that it would be useful for the council to have earlier in the search process, there was no discussion of how such information might be shared in the future.

2.  APPROVAL OF NEW DIRECTOR OF THE SENIOR CENTER: OCA unanimously approved a motion to recommend approval of the Town Manager’s nomination of  Mary Beth Ogulewicz as Director of Senior Services. Prior to the vote, OCA members noted that of 28 candidates, only two were offered interviews and of those, one withdrew,  so only a single candidate was interviewed. Some also raised concerns that the nominee had no previous experience working in senior services. 

3.  APPROVAL OF APPOINTMENTS TO BOARD OF HEALTH: OCA briefly discussed the Town Manager’s nominations to the board of health.  Some members raised concerns, as they have for other committee nominations, that re-appointees are not interviewed and that no background information is provided about their work on the committee since their previous appointment. The nominations were approved unanimously.

Town Manager’s Appointment Of Department Heads

OCA discussed the role that Town Council ought to play in these nominations,  reprising some of the same discussions that they have had for the Town Manager’s  committee appointments at previous OCA meetings. Multiple councilors noted that the charter mandates a decision to approve or reject nominations and that this provides a needed check and balance on the Manager’s role.  The Manager’s nomination for the Director of Senior Services was made almost two weeks ago. According to the charter, TC has two weeks to act on nominations and if no action is taken the nomination is automatically approved. OCA and council would need to act on this today in order to have any input into the process. 

Councilor Ross asked – what exactly is OCA’s role in the TM’s appointment for department heads?  (Note: he has raised this same question in previous OCA meetings re: Town Manager appointments to multi-member bodies). 

Councilor Dumont asked –  if we don’t have more information and if we don’t know anything about the pool then we’re just a rubber stamp so what’s the point of our participation?

Councilor Brewer recounted the history of the appointment process noting that under the former government,  the select board did not play any role in appointment of department heads. She said she was not sure what useful input/involvement on the part of the council might look like. She further offered that it might have been helpful if the council had been consulted in framing the job description – producing an evolving conversation about the job and what it might look like.  In having this conversation, the council would be in a better position to have an opinion on who was put forward. If the council is to be involved, she said, then they need to be involved early in the process, which is not now the case.

Councilor Swartz concurred noting that as OCA tweaks its decision-making process it  would be useful to have a timeline for having that conversation. The charter, she said, specifies that TC should be involved but not how it should be involved.

Councilor Ryan noted that the job of the council is not to second-guess the Manager.  Ryan said that as long as the Manager is clear about the process he followed and about what he is looking for and that the person he has chosen is professionally qualified, then TC should not be involved beyond confirming that the process has been followed.

Brewer countered that OCA does not even know this kind of information for this nominee.  Even basic information about the process was not included in the Manager’s memo  in the packet so she suggested that this is one of the things that ought to be routinely provided for OCA and the council. She said OCA ought to be clear on the things it is looking for and when it wants information.  Brewer noted that she is not objecting to the process per se but says that OCA needs to be clear on what it wants the process to be. But she also said that this is not enough. She said that the charter mandates approval of nominees and that “approval” implies a more active and informed involvement than merely confirming that an agreed-upon process was followed.   There is a check and balance function specified by the charter she noted. She wondered on what basis the committee could actually reject a nominee? “Do we have any idea of what that would look like?” she asked.. “And when we say “we” who do we mean? Are we talking about OCA or the TC?”

Swartz offered that she doesn’t think that asking for more information from the Manager is adversarial.  She wondered, why not ask for the same kind of information that we ask for with other appointments? Why not spell out the process? Why not include OCA in an evolving conversation about the job description?  Why not provide OCA with information about how the candidate fits the job description? Why not provide more information about the pool including demographics? 

Ryan noted that this collaboration is new for the Manager.  In the past he has made these appointments without any oversight.  So why are we allocating so much time to this now? Ryan said he accepts that OCA might ask for some things that the Manager is not now providing but these are his appointments and we don’t need to meddle.   We would need very good reasons for rejecting any of his appointments, he said.  

But other councilors continued to press the point that they don’t have sufficient information to make any kind of judgment.  If the full council were to ask – why did you approve this nominee, what could they say?

Ryan responded that he can accept asking for more information for future nominees if OCA can agree on what they want specifically but they should not use that as a reason to delay this appointment. He emphasized that he believes that OCA has a role but a marginal role. 

Dumont said that she was ok moving forward with this nomination but that she would still like to see more demographic information on the pool.

Swartz clarified that she does not see the questions that they are raising as looking over the Manager’s shoulder but that OCA has a responsibility to give a good reason for approving this nominee, or any nominee (as mandated by the charter) and not just be a rubber stamp.

The councilors then formulated a list of things that they would like to see in future appointments:

  • Evolving conversation with the Manager about job descriptions and the vision for the department.
  • Engagement with OCA early in the process.
  • Timely posting of information on nominations so OCA has time to act
  • A clear account of appointment process 
  • Some information on the candidate pool, including demographics

Ross suggested that what he heard in this discussion is that OCA wants to be a check on the appointment process but not on the person chosen (Note: it was not evident, from the conversation that followed, that other councilors embraced this interpretation.)  

Other members noted there were  28 applicants, two were offered interviews, but one candidate withdrew and only one was ultimately interviewed. 

Ryan noted that if the Manager was present he could answer these questions in a formal setting. He suggested that in the future, OCA have him present as they have done with other appointments.  Dumont and Swartz concurred.

Ross noted that the Manager  could attend in about an hour and suggested that OCA settle on the questions that they wanted to pose to him.  These were:

  1. Why was only one candidate interviewed?
  2. What is the Manager’s vision for the job?  And in this case, where does he want the senior center to be going in the coming year?  

Brewer noted that this is not even about getting TC’s approval for a job description but rather about bringing them on board so that there is better understanding among councilors of where things are going.  This is the kind of common understanding between the Manager and TC that is necessary for government to work. 

  1. The nominee does not have a lot of experience in elder services so what were the strengths that TM saw that outweighed that weakness?  Here, Ross noted that previous experience with a senior center is not in the job description nor a requirement of the job. Brewer pointed out that while the job description is for director of the senior center, the appointment is for director of senior services.  These are slightly different concepts and may have discouraged some from applying. 

The discussion was then tabled until the appearance of the Town Manager. 

Public Comment

Mark Parent, chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) spoke, representing the ZBA. Parent expressed his frustration with the appointment process, objecting to the fact that OCA did not reappoint Keith Langsdale to the ZBA. Parent requested that OCA revisit its appointments and either appoint Langsdale to the ZBA or at the very least to an associate/alternate position. He argued that it makes it difficult for the committee to do its job when they do not have people with deep experience and he suggested that the appointment process has not been sensitive to this.  He used his remaining time to review the work of the ZBA and to share his own perspective on the mandate for the ZBA. (Note: this was the second time in as many OCA meetings that a committee chair has come before OCA to complain about the appointment process. Click here for an account of Finance Committee chair Andy Steinberg’s appearance). 

Appointments to the Board of Health (BOH)

OCA noted the thin descriptions in the nominating memo for people who had been reappointed to the BOH (you can read the Town Manager’s appointment memo here). Brewer reiterated that OCA ought to get more information, not only about the candidates but on what they did while they were on the board previously.  “If you can’t offer something about their positive contributions to the board then why should they be reappointed?” she asked. She said that OCA needs something concrete on what each candidate is bringing to the table and that ought to be part of the nominating process.  She also noted, as she has previously, that the refusal to interview candidates for reappointment remains problematic, stating “If reappointments are automatic then let’s say that. Otherwise, let’s review what each person did while they were on the committee prior to reappointment.” 

Ryan said that he is ok with the assumption that people will continue on committees and can expect reappointment and that it sends the wrong message to scrutinize their work and would discourage folks from applying if OCA did so. 

Brewer confirmed that she is not proposing to treat candidates for reappointment  like a completely new candidate but said it would be helpful to look at what they have done during their previous appointment.  “ We can extend to them the benefit of the doubt,” she said, “but we ought to have some information on what their work and accomplishments look like.”  She argued against automatic reappointments. 

New Director of Senior Services

Town Manager Paul Bockelman arrived at 11:10 and OCA resumed its discussion of the appointment of Mary Beth Ogulewicz as the new director of Senior Services. 


OCA:  Why was only one candidate interviewed?

Bockelman:  I consulted with the interview team after the second candidate withdrew. They felt that only these two candidates were acceptable and that they would not have recommended any of the other candidates in the pool.  I was concerned about interviewing only one person. My decision to move forward was informed by the fact that the appointee would be taking on a position that had been held by a single person for 47 years. I felt that this candidate was especially capable for stepping into that kind of situation. If they had not been, I would have reopened the search.

OCA;  What is your vision for the senior center and how did this inform this search?

Bockelman:   We are looking to become a more age-friendly community. Transportation is probably the biggest challenge for seniors.  Also, we’re thinking more about folks who are aging in place, facing challenges of aging, including dementia, while remaining at home.  We recognize that the traditional idea of a senior center does not necessarily fit with the needs of our community where older people are drawn to it because they want to be physically and intellectually active and engaged.  We’re looking for someone who can lead us into these changing circumstances, which may necessitate changing policy as well. The current hire poses a challenge for us because both South Hadley and Easthampton are also looking for directors for their senior centers.   While it is true that the nominee did not have much experience with seniors or with supervising a staff, she is someone who could bring fresh perspectives and who could think outside the box. She has lots of enthusiasm for the role. 

OCA: we’re concerned that 26 or 28 candidates did not make the cut.  Did everyone on the interview team share this vision?  

Bockelman:  There was considerable overlap among members of the interview team.  I think they all agree that the rest of the pool just didn’t measure up.

Councilors expressed concern about the job posting–that folks who did not have experience with a senior center might not have applied when the job was actually for something much broader than managing a center.   Bockelman was not sure if this would have impacted the pool but he said most people applying for positions like this would understand what Amherst is up to and would know that the job entailed more than managing a building. 

Brewer emphasized that we really can’t know how the job description ultimately impacted the pool.

Several councilors wanted to know if OCA could be involved earlier in the process and have some input into the job description and know up front what the job description is and what the vision is that informs it. 

Bockelman asked what the TC’s role will be moving forward.  Is it simply to verify that the person is competent and protocols have been followed or is it more?  How much detail does the council need in order to be involved in the administration of government? That’s something to be resolved, he said, but is seems that the council is looking for more information than they need to fulfill their mandate under the charter. 

Ryan responded that it’s useful to know what the Manager’s vision is and that the Manager could make clear the vision that he has for various departments and their heads and that an ongoing conversation about this vision would be useful.

Brewer pointed out that it would be a lot easier to bring the TC on board if there was such an ongoing conversation rather than just bringing the names at the end of the process.  She reminded the room that the charter says that TC must approve or reject but based on what? It’s not about micro-managing. It’s about providing meaningful input. 

Bockelman responded that the Manager gets to hire his team. It is not the council’s role to be involved with that, other than perhaps to confirm that the rules have been followed and  that he has met all of the requirements specified to hire this person.  

Ryan offered the example of the Town Clerk hiring.  He said, we live in a college town and because of this,  attitudes about college student voting is important. So a candidate who was indifferent to this or who has no ideas about reaching out to students would concern him.  So that’s about more than qualifications or fulfilling a process. Ryan said he would want to know how candidates responded on this particular issue.  

Bockelman responded that he thought this was a really good example and noted that each particular department would have some issue like this.  He asked – while we are at it, did OCA have any other insights/questions re: the clerk position noting that he had also had been looking for someone who was tuned in to census issues,  challenges of young people voting, and the challenges and prospects of ranked choice voting.

Ross pointed to the vision clarification for senior services and noted that it would have been really useful to OCA if that had been in the memo. He emphasized  that such information would be helpful for any kind of appointment. Ross also expressed concern about the issuing of a press release with names of appointees to the BOH before the council took action.   Bockelman replied that once he makes a nomination and notifies the candidates, it is public information and therefore a press release at that time is appropriate. He also noted that when he announces a nomination, he always notes that it is subject to council action.

At the conclusion Bockelman seemed to be willing to engage with the Council about providing more information about departmental “vision” and about job descriptions, but it was not clear how such conversations were going to be initiated or  institutionalized. There was no discussion of further actions or follow ups.

Appointments to the Board of Health

Bockelman nominated the following people to the board of health:

For a three year term:  Steven George (reappointment).  For two year terms: Maureen Millea and Timothy Randhir.

Nancy Gilbert and John Tobiason will continue as members. Their terms expire June 30, 2020.

Brewer re-raised issue of wanting to have more information on reappointments and acknowledged that OCA needs to develop a more explicit way of asking for that information. 

Bockelman noted that he doesn’t have the capacity to evaluate how a member is doing on a committee other than to know whether they are showing up. He leans toward automatic reappointment unless someone calls to his attention a reason why someone should not be reappointed. 

Ross clarified that having the professional profile of the nominee is helpful but not sufficient.  He pointed out that it is useful to know why the information is important, noting for example, that it may not be readily apparent that nominee Tim Randhir’s experience with hydrology and septic systems is essential to the work of the Board of health which has major responsibilities for water quality in the town.  

MOTION  (by Ross)  that OCA recommend to the full town council that they approve the  appointment of Mary Beth Ogulewicz as director of senior services. (passed 5-0)

MOTION (by Ryan) –  that OCA recommend to the full town council that they approve the Town Manager’s appointments to the Board of Health. (passed 5-0)

Dumont suggested that future  appointment memos might be streamlined – that the memos from OCA are getting quite lengthy and that composing them takes up a lot of time that might be allocated elsewhere.  She asked that OCA consider streamlining as they move forward.

Brewer questioned  whether the ZBA should have three or four associate members.  The bylaw says three but the new zoning bylaws specify up to four associate members.  OCA has appointed three based on a prior recommendation of the ZBA chair who is now requesting four.  Ross noted that the new bylaw does not require OCA to appoint any more members to the ZBA. 

The next OCA meeting will be at 9:30 AM on AUG 12 in the Town Room. 

The meeting adjourned at 12:14 PM. 

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