City Manager contracts across MA

Several counselors and candidates have expressed a belief that contracts for executive officers in a city are inappropriate. Mr. Leahy mentioned that he believed contracts were appropriate for school executive leadership, but not for city managers. I was curious, and did a quick internet search.

Cities other than Lowell with a “manager” form of government (Plan D or Plan E) include Worcester, Cambridge, Barnstable, Chelsea, Randolph, Watertown, Bridgewater, Winthrop, Southbridge, and Palmer. 9 of the 10 cities currently have a two-to-five year contract with their city managers, and Southbridge has a one-year contract. The most common term seems to be three years. Admittedly, Barnstable has had some controversy in their most recent negotiation, but it seems pretty clear that a multi-year contract is the norm, not the exception.

Those who know more, please comment!

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3 thoughts on “City Manager contracts across MA

  1. Although the city council may be the true boss, it is better that the expertise is in the hands of a profession in municipal government. Certainly, anyone who was looking to invest in the city would prefer a stable relationship so that they were not undercut by political whim. A contract for the city manager would seem to strengthen that relationship. Maybe more important would be a commitment to a Master Plan for the city. City manager contracts are not all that cast in stone, as there is usually an escape clause where a severance is all that is needed to go in a different direction.

  2. I think Dick Howe’s point is the salient one and is perhaps more salient for Lowell than many other communities because for some reason our politics get so intense. His point being that the reason a contract longer than the election cycle is a good thing is that you want an administration to be free to consider the long game for the city and not be mired in the election cycle. Indeed, one of the things I don’t like about congressional representative’s two year terms is that as soon as you get elected you’re working on getting reelected rather that the job itself. If you elect a newbie, just as the figure out how to get anything done they’re distracted from putting that learning into use on our behalf.

  3. Good points. Incidentally, apolitical planning boards and binding comprehensive plans are often supported for the same reasons: insulating long-term planning decisions from short-term election cycles. From what I’ve seen in practice, it works better in some cases than in others!

    What I found interesting is that some in Lowell have been speaking as if offering a contract is controversial, but in reality, contracts of 2-5 years appear to be widely accepted in Massachusetts and *not* giving a contract would be the exception. However, Mr. Howe suggested in his blog that this “ambivalence” is created by Lowell’s history of previous City Managers being politicians, not professionals. This seems to be a reasonable explanation to me.

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