The recent resignations of several key people in town government, combined with a large number of vacancies on town committees, has created what some have referred to as a personnel crisis in the town that has jeopardized progress on some town initiatives. At least seven key positions at Town Hall have been recently vacated through resignation or retirement, and there are 34 vacancies on town committees.
Key Town Hall Personnel Depart
Town Hall staff who resigned in the last three months include:
Mary Beth Oguleweicz, Director of Senior Services. Oguleweicz has also been serving as coordinator for implementing the Community Responder For Equity Safety and Service (CRESS) program, a civilian alternative to policing, and for the development of a Director of Equity and Inclusion position.The latter position had been recommended by the Community Safety Working Group and endorsed by Town Manager Paul Bockelman. In addition, she has been serving as facilitator for the town’s Homelessness and Rehousing Task Force.
Emma Dragon, Health Director. Dragon had been with the town for less than a year. She was recently acknowledged for her leadership as a Commonwealth Heroine by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. The departure of both the health director and public health nurse (see below) comes at a time when the COVID-19 delta variant is surging across the country, including in Massachusetts (with nearly 10,000 new cases last week), and when schools and the university are just about to reopen for the fall term, and COVID policies are continuing to be hotly debated.
Jennifer Brown, Public Health Nurse and current Acting Health Director, is slated to leave in September to begin a doctoral program, and it is unclear if she will continue in her position after next month.
Anthony Delaney, Town Procurement Officer. The departure this month of the chief procurement officer to Salem, Massachusetts has apparently slowed the progress of the Elementary School Building Committee.
Cheri Boucher, Town Treasurer, retired after 36 years of service. Current Town Collector Jennifer LaFountain will take on the treasurer’s duties in addition to her duties as collector. Kim Littmann and Theresa Fleurent also retired from the Accounting Department.
Cheryl Lofland, Assistant to the Superintendent of Public Works, recently retired after 40 years of service.
Department Heads Who Have Left In The Last Two YearsDepartment heads who have left in the last two years include:
Director of Senior Services Ogelwicz replaced retiring long-term director Nancy Pagano in July 2019 and is now leaving August 31 to become an assistant in the Northwest District Attorney’s office.
Amherst Recreation Director Barbara Bilz left the position she had held since November 2017 last spring. The position is currently open.
Public Health Director Julie Federman retired in October 2020 and was replaced in November 2020 by Emma Dragon, who resigned after nine months “to pursue another professional opportunity.” Dragon has been replaced on an interim basis by public health nurse Jennifer Brown.
Clerk of both the town and the town council, Margaret Nartowicz, left in June 2019 to become town administrator for the town of Berlin. She was replaced by Shavena Martin as town clerk and Athena O’Keeffe as clerk of the council in October 2019. Martin resigned in December 2020 after being on medical leave for the three previous months and has been replaced by Assistant Town Clerk Sue Audette. O’Keeffe is still serving as clerk of the council.
Elizabeth Duffy, who was named the principal assessor for the town in January 2020, has resigned. She succeeded long-term Assessor David Burgess. The position is now vacant.
Economic Development Director Geoff Kravitz left in January 2020, after four years in the position,to become Sunderland’s town administrator. The position is now vacant.
Human Resources Director Evelyn Rivera Riffenburg left to become human resources director for the Chicopee public schools in June 2020, after 14 months on the job. She was replaced by Donna Rae Kenneally.
Vacancies On Town Committees
There were 34 vacancies listed for town committees as of August 26. Some of these vacancies have gone unfilled for over a year (e.g. those on the Transportation Advisory Committee). Some of these committees, for example the Districting Advisory Board, have been unable to hold meetings due to lack of a quorum. Some of these openings have been noted in requests for applications issued by the town manager (see e.g. here and here).
Current vacancies on town committees follow. The prefatory number in parentheses is the number of openings that need to be filled. For more information on these openings , the appointing authority, and the length of term for the appointment, look here.
(7) African Heritage Reparation Assembly
(5) Agricultural Commission
(2) Amherst Cultural Council
(1) Board of Health
(2) CDBG Advisory Committee
(2) Community Safety Working Group
(2) Council on Aging
(1) Disability Access Advisory Committee
(1) Districting Advisory Board
(3) Energy and Climate Action Committee
(2) Human Rights
(2) Jones Library Building Committee
(1) Public Art Commission
(1) Public Shade Tree Committee
(1) Recreation Commission
(2) Transportation Advisory Committee
No timetables have been offered for when town hall positions or committee assignments will be filled. Bockelman noted at last week’s town council meeting that the town is looking into hiring a consultant to support CRESS and DEI implementation, but offered no specifics. Current job postings for salaried town positions can be found here.
The proliferation of vacancies has raised concerns about the work environment at town hall, about the added strain the high turnover has placed on remaining staff, about the impacts of turnover on critical projects like CRESS, the town’s energy and climate action plan, and the elementary school building project, as well as about the town manager’s hesitancy to fill positions on certain multi-member bodies. Bockelman has attributed the proliferation of vacancies to a general shortage of qualified people, the challenges of staffing during the pandemic, and happenstance, with several key personnel receiving attractive offers for career advancement at the same time.
Town Council President Lynn Griesemer reported that all departing personnel participated in an exit interview with the town’s human resources department and that no discernable pattern emerged to explain the high turnover. The issue of retention and recruitment will also be taken up by the town’s personnel board.
Griesemer offered the following comment on the recent resignations of town staff:
” … the COVID Pandemic, while blamed for many things, has in fact, created a nationwide job shift. This was the subject of an NPR special… and several newspaper articles. It begins with the service industry and moves well beyond. Here are some, but not all of the particulars:
- Service industry people resent being labeled as “essential” workers while owners of restaurants, fast food, and many other services rarely put themselves on the line during the worst of the pandemic
- The baby boom generation, the youngest of whom are in their mid-sixties have taken the time during the pandemic to assess their priorities and many are now retiring — some with a few years short of their goal. This is especially true for teachers and others whose lives converted to virtually working — 8+ hours a day in front of a screen just did not do it for them.
- This has led to a highly competitive market for employees with many employers offering much higher salaries (three of the people who are leaving Town Hall are leaving for jobs that pay at least $50K more than they are presently making; and our salary ranges do not provide for counter offers that even come close). Some are choosing to “return” to one’s chosen/original profession; accepting increased job responsibilities; and the opportunity to move closer to family, often aging parents.
- Some employers are able to offer the ability to work from home as part of their new package of benefits
- And, those who are left behind at the present employer, many of whom are state retirees with “golden handcuffs”, are now feeling overburdened with more work because of understaffing.
“The Town is experiencing a large amount of staff turnover right now. Our Human Resources staff conducts an exit interview with each person who departs and there does not seem to be a real pattern except that opportunities to increase compensation abound. From their exit interviews, it seems each person has their own personal reason for moving to the next opportunity.”
“In my conversations, this is happening with many cities and towns along with the School Department and University. There just seems to be significant pent-up demand for change as we emerge(?) from the pandemic.”