WELLFLEET — At its Jan. 9 meeting, the Wellfleet Select Board voted to appoint Assistant Town Administrator Silvio Genao to the position of interim town administrator. Genao resigned on Jan. 16, just one week later, before taking on the new role at town hall.
Genao’s resignation follows Town Administrator Rich Waldo’s resignation last month.
According to an email sent to town staff on the morning of Jan. 17, Genao’s last day in Wellfleet will be Feb. 15; Waldo’s last day will be Feb. 9.
“It is with a heavy heart that I inform you that I am resigning from my position,” Genao’s email to the staff read. “You have a great team in Wellfleet, who works well together and enjoys helping each other out. I hope that our paths cross again in the future.”
The select board held a closed session on Jan. 16 to negotiate Genao’s contract as interim administrator. According to select board chair Barbara Carboni, after the executive session Genao handed her his resignation letter.
Genao said the letter explained his reason for resigning, but he declined to provide the Independent with a copy. “The most important thing to me is my own well-being and my mental health,” Genao said. “I wouldn’t be able to be an effective assistant town administrator or interim town administrator if those things are not in place. For those reasons I don’t think I can do this job.”
When asked if Genao’s resignation came up during the Jan. 16 executive session, Carboni said, “The resignation did not appear related to the negotiation.”
During the board’s Jan. 9 meeting, Genao had said, “It is part of the assistant town administrator’s responsibilities that in the event of the absence of the town administrator, the assistant steps up.” Board member Tim Sayre asked Genao whether he wanted to serve as interim town administrator. “I do,” Genao replied.
A Wakeup Call Missed
Genao came to Wellfleet after serving as Plymouth’s director of human resources; he started his job here on Oct. 23. Genao said he knew of Wellfleet’s tangled financial history and knew that the town needed help organizing and streamlining its internal controls and processes, laid out in the state Dept. of Revenue’s financial management review last February.
Once here, Genao said, it did not take him long to diagnose the financial problems as symptoms of a larger staffing epidemic. He said Waldo has “made a lot of strides” to fill the vacancies that have plagued the town’s administrative, financial, and health departments. But despite these recruiting efforts, “retaining is the other part.”
Genao said he saw a systemic lack of support for staff stemming from the town’s select board and resulting in difficulties with retention. “People want to work in an organization where they know they will be allowed to their jobs, and that they are going to be supported,” Genao said. “I don’t think the leadership in the community feels that way.”
Genao said he saw this lack of support “very soon” after starting the job. When town staff delivered a joint letter to the select board on Dec. 5 demanding better support, “I was shocked,” Genao said.
“Your failure to support current staff does not create a productive, attractive, or even safe work environment for potential new staff members as well as for current staff,” the letter stated. It was read aloud to the board by Director of Community Services Suzanne Grout Thomas.
“I have never seen staff members go directly to the board like that before,” Genao said. “Seeing one of them go to the mic and have internal support from other members to discuss a personnel matter in public, it was immediately a huge red flag.”
The select board’s response to the letter was “muted,” Genao said. “To have that letter not be a wakeup call, I don’t know what else needs to be said. The silence spoke volumes to me.
“In the short time I have been here, Wellfleet has the best staff I have ever seen,” Genao said. “I cannot say enough how much staff is willing to help, how welcomed I felt.”
Genao likened operating municipal government to steering a ship. Town staff are the deckhands, the administration is at the tiller, and the select board is the wind that pushes the boat forward. “When you have wind pushing in opposite directions, the ship stays where it is,” Genao said.
He said he saw “no cohesion” on a select board beset by conflict. And while Wellfleet’s ship is trapped in doldrums, staff members watch in despair. “They jump ship,” Genao said. “Eventually, what you will have is a ghost ship.”
Righting the Ship
The select board was slated to hold a first round of interviews for an interim town administrator on Wednesday, Jan. 24, after the deadline for this edition of the Independent. According to the meeting’s agenda, the candidates include former Town Administrator Harry Terkanian and Liz Hartsgrove, the current assistant town administrator in Bourne.
The board will be holding another interview on Monday, Jan. 29, Carboni told the Independent.
Carboni said that the board’s first order of business is to fill the interim town administrator job as soon as it can, which is “particularly important as we are heading into budget and warrant season.”
Carboni said the board will also appoint a search committee for the job of permanent town administrator. The town has also started the procurement process for hiring a professional recruiter to fill the permanent administrator roles.
Filling the assistant town administrator position is “secondary to the urgency of finding someone who is qualified to fill the interim town administrator role,” Carboni said, though the searches will proceed simultaneously.
About Genao’s resignation, Town Administrator Rich Waldo said, “I was hoping for continuity.” But, he added, “I understand his decision and support his decision.”
“In the short time he was with us, Silvio impressed me with his knowledge, people skills, and dedication to public service,” Carboni said in a written comment to the Independent. “I wish him well in his next endeavor.”