WELLFLEET — Town Treasurer Cameron Scott submitted his resignation on June 2, becoming the fourth town employee to resign within the last two months. Assistant Town Administrator Rebecca Roughley resigned on May 12, and Health Agent Hillary Greenberg-Lemos and Building Commissioner James Badera resigned in April.
Scott, Greenberg-Lemos, and Badera could not be reached for comment. Roughley declined to speak to a reporter.
According to Town Administrator Rich Waldo, there are eight key staff positions that are or will be vacant in the next couple of months. That’s about 10 percent of the town’s total workforce. Waldo said during the June 6 select board meeting that this current wave of vacancies leaves the town in a “critical spot” for its continued operational success.
Along with the four resignations, Waldo named four other important vacancies. The finance director-accountant position has been empty since Nick Robertson left in December to return to his previous assistant accountant job in Provincetown. The assistant treasurer-collector position has been vacant since Christine Young was promoted to principal clerk in April. Christine Bates will retire at the end of June from her job as committee secretary, and Assistant Recreation Director Angel Robinson plans to retire at the end of July.
The town’s website also lists the community preservation committee secretary as an open position. Mary Rogers will retire from that role at the end of June.
The effects are already visible: according to select board chair Ryan Curley, the withdrawal of the town’s RFP for a master plan for housing at Maurice’s Campground is a direct consequence of staffing losses.
The hours of the building and health departments have also been limited due to staffing shortages, an announcement on the town’s webpage says. Those offices have been closed to the public on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons since April so that remaining staff can work through a backlog of permits.
According to Waldo, at least four of the eight departing employees worked in Wellfleet for two years or less. Scott was the town’s treasurer for 16 months, Robertson lasted eight months, Badera was building commissioner for 18 months, and Roughley was assistant town administrator for just over two years, Waldo said.
That pattern of quick turnover is not new and has caught the eyes of officials in Boston. The Dept. of Revenue’s financial management report highlighted that, in the last 10 years, Wellfleet has had six town administrators, six assistant town administrators, nine accountants, and six treasurers. And on April 7, Standard and Poor’s lowered Wellfleet’s municipal bond rating from AAA to AA+, citing Wellfleet’s failure to retain staff.
Waldo said Wellfleet’s staffing woes are a structural issue.
“Wellfleet’s structure has been built over the years to expand our services and the projects we take on, but our staffing has always stayed the same,” Waldo said. “There is the expectation to do more with less. It’s just not a good work environment. People are overworked, and it leads to burnout.”
Waldo added that employees “see greener grass elsewhere, and they move towards it.”
Both Greenberg-Lemos and Scott took jobs in Eastham. Waldo said he does not believe Roughley has a job lined up but that she “was done” with Wellfleet.
Wellfleet’s Human Resources Director Christine Ezersky said that “poaching” is a Cape-wide issue. “Towns are competing against towns because there just aren’t enough people to fill all the roles,” Ezersky said.
At its June 6 meeting, the select board authorized Waldo to seek a recruitment and retention study from UMass Boston’s Collins Center for Public Management under an existing $24,000 contract the town has with the center. “We need to look at our organizational charts and see how we can reinforce these positions that are turning over frequently,” Waldo said.
But Wellfleet’s compensation of town employees could also be a factor, Waldo said.
Wellfleet’s last compensation study was conducted in 2016, when Harry Terkanian was town administrator. That study found that nonunion positions in Wellfleet had salaries that averaged 12 percent less than those in surrounding towns. The town administrator’s and treasurer’s salaries were both 17 percent less than in nearby towns, the assistant town administrator’s salary was 7 percent less, and the health agent’s salary was 8 percent less.
Terkanian told the Independent that “the disparity was apparent,” but he said he did not know if the town implemented the study’s analysis because he retired shortly after the study came out.
Waldo also said he wasn’t sure, because “there was so much turnover just in town administration for that kind of information to get carried over.”
According to Earl Hinton, a retired human resources executive who helped Provincetown implement its compensation study in 2022, a town should complete a compensation study every 18 months to two years.
The Independent received data from Provincetown’s recent compensation study through a public records request. The study confirmed that Wellfleet still pays less than surrounding towns for many key positions.
According to Provincetown’s study, Wellfleet paid its treasurer $75,555 in 2022, compared to $100,542 in Provincetown, $112,819 for the treasurer-collector position in Eastham, and $126,000 in Truro for a dual finance director-treasurer role.
The health agent’s salary in Wellfleet was $93,849 in 2022. In Truro it was $93,520, but in Provincetown the health director made $100,542, and in Eastham the salary was $108,867.
The assistant town administrator position in Wellfleet had a salary of $108,000, whereas in Truro that salary was $118,131, in Provincetown it was $117,323, and in Eastham a split finance director-assistant town administrator’s salary was $150,421.
“It’s hard to close that gap within an operating budget,” Terkanian said. Waldo said that Wellfleet’s budget is lean, which gives “little opportunity to do it without going to the taxpayers for an override.”
Wellfleet’s residential property tax rate is $6.96 per $1,000 of assessed value, which places it in the middle of the pack for Cape Cod. Wellfleet also falls between Eastham’s rate of $7.24 per $1,000 and Truro’s $6.54 per $1,000, according to 2023 Barnstable County property tax rate data.
The more important and deeper issue, Waldo said, is a culture bred on negativity. “The town has gone through a lot the last couple of years, and it has created a lot of animosity and mistrust,” Waldo said. “The town has to start healing from that.”
“I am hoping we can work on the culture of this town and be more supportive of each other,” Waldo told the select board. “There’s not a day that goes by when someone doesn’t say, ‘I love this community, I love this town.’ We have to build that culture; we have to live that culture.”
Shellfish Constable Nancy Civetta added that “the people who are left working in this town are here because we love it. We are dedicated, we are public servants, and we want to be here. Let’s make sure that those of us who are here can stay here because we feel respected and appreciated.”