Brain drain goes on in municipal government

Two-thirds of town managers have turned over in recent years

ED AUGUSTUS left his job as city manager in Worcester on Tuesday and on Wednesday started a new job as the first-ever chancellor of Dean College in Franklin.

Augustus’s decision to leave the job he has held for the last eight years is a high-profile example of an ongoing trend in Massachusetts municipal government – a massive exodus of top managers and administrators. 

Bernard Lynch, a principal at Community Paradigm Associates in Plymouth, who is often hired to help communities fill the vacancies, estimates nearly two-thirds of the town manager and administrator jobs in Massachusetts have turned over in the last six years. Lynch said his firm has been retained to handle 85 searches for town administrators over that time period. 

“There has been an amazing level of turnover,” he said. 

Lynch recently began working with the town of Boxborough to find a new town administrator, and at a meeting of the Select Board Tuesday night he explained the challenges ahead. 

“It’s a very competitive market. It’s a seller’s market,” he said. 

He said Carlisle is in the midst of its own search and Ipswich is about to launch one. Wayland, Stoughton, and Berlin are currently looking for new administrators, he said, and this fall Arlington and Middleborough are expected to begin seeking replacements for departing managers.

Marblehead’s town administrator announced in January he was stepping down without giving any explanation. The Select Board hoped to have a replacement named by early May, but no decision has been announced yet. 

Lynch said there is always some churn among town administrators, but departures have become far more commonplace during the pandemic. He said retirement is the primary driver of the high turnover. 

“It’s largely generational,” he said, noting that baby boomer managers are hitting their retirement ages. 

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The tendency for towns losing administrators is to lure an administrator with experience away from another town, which contributes to the continuous churn. Lynch encouraged the Boxborough Select Board to look at alternative candidates—department heads from larger communities or assistants in other municipalities.  

Still, Lynch thought Boxborough might be able to convince an existing town manager to relocate. “We have some good candidates that are ready to make the move to a place like Boxborough,” he said.