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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Charlestown has a new Town Administrator

Fasten your seat belts
Charlestown's new Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz
By Will Collette

The Town Council voted to hire a new Town Administrator Monday night. He is Mark Stankiewicz, the former Town Manager of Plymouth, MA. 

Stankiewicz will relieve acting Town Administrator Pat Anderson so Pat can go back to the job she really loves, that of Town Treasurer.

Town Administrators (and Managers) are a lot like the coaches of professional sports teams. 

When they’re hired, they’re hailed as the best possible person for the job, as geniuses and as the one to lead the town to greatness.

In time, unless that manager truly is a genius with a consistent, outstanding record who doesn't piss off the Town Council, that changes. The day inevitably comes when it’s time for the Town Manager, or in Charlestown's case, Administrator, to go. When that time comes, nobody mentions how much they used to love the guy – at that point, they’d just as soon forget they ever hired him[1].

Stankiewicz’s career is very similar to former Town Administrator Bill DiLibero’s. Both have worked for many different towns around the region. Stankiewicz was hired by Plymouth roughly the same time Charlestown hired DiLibero to high praise and with great expectations. Click here to read Stankiewicz’s resume.

The Council's praise for Stansiewicz sounds eerily like the
kinds of things they used to say about Bill DiLibero
Then, both DiLibero and Stankiewicz resigned under pressure in April, 2012. 

DiLibero was hounded out of office by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance’s trumped up “Kill Bill” campaign.

The reasons for Stankiewicz’s departure are much cloudier, although one Plymouth Selectman, a supporter of Stankiewicz, candidly said “The situation is that current, and past, members of the Board of Selectmen don’t understand what their role is in this form of government. Some think they’re omnipotent. Others are just angry at what happened at Town Meeting, but they know they can’t fire Town Meeting representatives, and they can’t fire department heads so, instead, they are lashing out at the town manager.”

According to one of the local newspapers in Plymouth, the Board of  Selectmen majority decided to offer Stankiewicz “a dignified departure.”

Both DiLibero and Stankiewicz were given severance packages worth more than $100,000 and agreed to “gag order” terms in their severance agreements where they promised not to speak publicly about the reasons or details of their departures.

Both Bill DiLibero and Stankiewicz have been looking for new gigs ever since.

As part of the severance deal, Plymouth bought out the remaining months left on Stankiewicz’s contract (click here to read his Plymouth contract) plus additional months’ salary including unused leave time and benefits.

Stankiewicz was making in excess of $146,000 a year in Plymouth. According to the Westerly Sun, Charlestown will pay him $110,000.

Before Stankiewicz worked for Plymouth, he was town manager in Stoughton MA for six years. Throughout that period, the town was rocked by scandals and corruption in the police department that split the town and roiled the town government. These did not appear to be problems of Stankiewicz’s making, but they certainly made his work in Stoughton all the more challenging.

But despite his work to clean up the town, Stankiewicz ran out his string in Stoughton. As the Boston Globe reported on November 6, 2008 "Turmoil and tension appear to be eroding the corner office at Stoughton Town Hall, where Mark Stankiewicz's run as town manager could be coming to a bitter close. And though little is being said publicly, behind the scenes it is believed a majority of the five-member Board of Selectmen would like to show the 50-year-old Stankiewicz the door, either with a pink slip or severance package."

I don't consider any of this past history as black marks against Stankiewicz. Like a professional coach, they love you today, but sooner or later, they'll show you the door. It's part of the job.

I hope Stankiewicz has a successful run as Charlestown’s Town Manager. A friend of mine who is a long-time Plymouth resident and political activist called Stankiewicz “a decent guy who can be worked with” and noted that he has a quirky sense of humor. That’s a pretty good sign – especially the sense of humor part.

But according to the few details that leaked out about his resignation in Plymouth, the Board of Selectmen differed sharply with Stankiewicz over how much governance the Selectmen (their equivalent of our Town Council) would exercise. They wanted to micromanage and he resisted.

And, oh boy, that is a huge issue here in Charlestown. 

Stankiewicz apparently gave all the right answers during his interviews with the town, no doubt saying he would defer to the Council on any judgment calls. But during most of Stankiewicz’s career, he worked as a Town Manager where the job involved far more authority - and autonomy - than Charlestown’s Town Administrator form of government.

Since Stankiewicz was booted[2] from Plymouth because the Selectmen wanted more detailed control than he did, I see trouble for Stankiewicz here in Charlestown. We've all seen how much the Charlestown Town Council majority loves to micromanage.

Stankiewicz says he plans to move from his family's current home in Stoughton (assessed at $352,900) to somewhere closer to Charlestown. Otherwise, it's a 64 mile, 90 minute one-way trip. 

He ought to consider a short-term rental. If he can find one.

If Stankiewicz hopes to stick around for a while, or at least through this current Council’s term, here’s some advice.
  • Be totally deferential to the Town Council – or at least the three CCA Councilors (Tom Gentz, Dan Slattery and George Tremblay) who constitute the majority.
  • Send them copies of everything and do nothing without asking for their permission first. 
  • If the Councilors say not to send them everything – don’t believe it. The failure to cc the Council on everything was Bill DiLibero’s undoing.
  • Try to work the phrase, “yes, Tom, whatever you say” at least three or four times into every conversation.
  • It would also help if you laugh at each and every one of Town Council Boss Tom Gentz’s jokes.
  • Under no circumstances should you piss off the most powerful person in town, Planning Commissar Ruth Platner. DiLibero was praised to the high heavens by the Town Council until Commissar Platner decided he had violated CCA orthodoxy on wind energy and sports lighting at Ninigret Park. From that point on, DiLibero was toast.
I felt that Bill DiLibero was an honest, decent guy who worked hard for the greater good of Charlestown. So did the Town Council majority until they turned on him. They went from publicly commending DiLibero and giving him a big raise to wanting him to clean out his desk forthwith.

Now comes Mark Stankiewicz with credentials and experience remarkably similar to DiLibero’s. Like DiLibero, he is a veteran of the kind of small town wars where you ride the job approval roller coaster. Today, the CCA majority on the Town Council thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced cheese. 

But will they love him tomorrow?


[1] I make no apology for using the masculine pronoun since it usually is a “him” and not a “her.”

[2] From the Boston Globe: “By no means should this be considered as a voluntary resignation,’’ said selectmen vice chairman John Mahoney. “This was a termination.’’