Why The NP&EDC Should Search For A New Planning Director

Meghan Perry •

This letter was originally sent to the Select Board and the Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission: 

To the editor: I know you are all very busy and now have another hundreds-page-long packet to read, that the NP&EDC released for their upcoming hybrid meeting Monday at 5 p.m. at 4 Fairgrounds Road. Looking at the 98 pages of public comment about Leslie Snell, there are a few things that seem to be contradictory and self-serving. This is especially the case for the handful of letters of support regarding the hiring process to fill the (maybe never vacant?) Planning Director position. These letters are written by real estate attorneys, former PLUS employees, real estate agents/brokers, the president of a local housing nonprofit, a person appointed as a Planning Board Alternate, and town committee members who are – while unpaid – actually considered municipal employees subject to the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A.

In my opinion it is challenging at best to seriously consider letters of support from people who could have financial or other gain based on the decisions and actions of the Planning Director and the Planning Department. In my opinion, letters of recommendation from financially interested parties are usually not a great tool for employers to use to determine the merits of an application. I personally would be more inclined to give those letters in the packet some more weight if they came from a broader range of authors, whose financial well-being wasn’t so tied to the planning department and its actions and management.

Members of a committee really cannot, and should not, be endorsing someone for a municipal job while wearing their official “committee hat” or speaking from their experience as a member of said committee while they still sit on that committee. These letters would be a real challenge in the case that the search is opened, other applicants are allowed to submit their interest, and members of – for example – the finance committee have already established, in writing, their strong support for one candidate in particular.

Furthermore, in the packet there are two documents from the Town of Nantucket, discussing Town of Nantucket policies about “Efficient and Effective Town Operations” and “Succession Planning”. The NP&EDC has chosen not to allow the Town of Nantucket to contribute to this hiring process, except that the Town of Nantucket is responsible for the $175,000 of annual compensation, plus benefits, and all costs associated with the Planning Director. Essentially “We don’t need your help, but thanks for the money, but also, we’ll tell you what to do with the money, that we are getting, from you via Nantucket taxpayers.”

Why is the NPEDC using Town documents to justify their choice to forgo the customary Town hiring processes? The NPEDC chose to highlight a section of the “Efficient and Effective Town Operations” document, which suggests that the Town is achieving “succession planning by developing and promoting staff from within the organization.” This begs the questions in my mind about how this applies to a few other Town hires in recent history:

2016 – Fire Chief, posted search, external hire

2016 – Sewer Director, posted search, internal hire

2017 – DPW Director, posted search, external hire

2019 – Building Commissioner, posted search, external hire

2020 – NHS Principal, posted search, external hire

2021 – DEI Director, posted search, local hire

2019 – Superintendent, posted search, external hire

2022 – Fire Chief, posted search, external hire

2023 – NIS Principal, posted search, external hire

2023 – Police Chief, posted search, external hire

2023 – DPW Director, posted search, local hire

2024 – Deputy Fire Chiefs, posted search, external hires

2024 – Public Health Director, national public search underway

I am sure there are more I have left off.

One could argue that some of these positions did not have internal/local applicants. However, quite a few had at least one, on occasion there were two, and yet these vacant positions were posted, searches were conducted, applications received, job offers made.

It’s clear that despite what this town document says, the priority is to find the best candidate through a proper search and while succession planning can be a goal, it is not the final determination of an applicant’s hiring.

Another document in the packet is a presentation made by Town Manager Libby Gibson for the Massachusetts Municipal Association Annual Meeting in January 2023. The third slide states “People are an organization’s greatest asset, when they leave it comes with a cost.” I could not agree more! So I ask why post very important jobs only to internal candidates or in this case not post it at all. From the lengthy (and likely incomplete list) of major hiring searches and position-filling from above, that the priority was again, to find the best candidate.

The NP&EDC did not post the position or offer an application period for external candidates to apply for the “vacant” Planning Director job. They did not even seek out the interest of other potential candidates. It appears they did not even speak with the Town Manager about the hire. The NP&EDC did not follow customary Town of Nantucket practices for such a leadership position, but they did think that it was appropriate to refer to the Town of Nantucket’s documents about hiring and succession. The use of the word “succession” seems like a convenient term to describe what the NP&EDC is trying to do.

The NP&EDC chose instead to have discussions, negotiations, review a draft contract and approve it in a closed session in violation of the Open Meeting Law. What are they trying to hide? This process needs to be corrected. The five-page scathing decision from the Attorney General should put everyone on notice! This was clearly not an oversight or whoopsie.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Meghan Perry

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