PROVINCETOWN — If negotiations are successful, Alex B. Morse, 32, a native son of Holyoke, the working-class city where he has been the mayor for 10 years, will become the next town manager of Provincetown.
On Feb. 25, the select board picked Morse for the position from a final group of three candidates. Barring a breakdown in salary negotiations, he will become the youngest town manager in decades. He’s also the only one of the top candidates with experience in municipal government. He has been mayor since he was 22, when he graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.
Morse was picked from a crop of 117 applicants. Following the previous town manager hire, Robin Craver, whose disappointing tenure lasted only six months, the selection process this time was different, said Rick Murray, chair of the town manager search committee.
Along with advertising in traditional venues for town jobs, such as the Mass. Municipal Association, Provincetown posted the job with professional organizations including National Black Lawyers and asked for referrals from LGBTQ advocacy groups, said Rick White of Groux-White Consulting, the executive search firm hired by the town. Morse, however, said he heard about the job himself while visiting during the summer, as Craver was leaving.
What made this search unique was an explicit desire for candidates who loved Provincetown.
“In speaking with citizens and the select board,” White said, “primarily, they were all looking for someone who had the same devotion, commitment, and affection for Provincetown that they [had]. Without casting aspersions on any former town managers, they believed that the times called for someone who had more than just a professional commitment to the community.”
But they also had to have a proven track record of success, White added.
Finalist Jennifer Pinck, who is 65, founded her own construction management company after being a manager on both the Big Dig and the Boston Harbor clean-up projects. A second-home owner in Provincetown, Pinck has been heralded as an LGBTQ leader, as well as a female pioneer in the construction industry. Her business, Pinck & Co., was named one of the fastest growing private companies by Inc. magazine. In 2018, she sold her business to Anser Advisory.
The third finalist, Kevin Hepner, 61, has taught a course in financial management for human service organizations for 18 years at Boston University’s School of Social Work. And he’s been a manager for several nonprofits in Boston, including the United South End Settlements, Judge Baker Children’s Center, and Federated Dorchester Neighborhood Houses. He’s also a certified public accountant and spent the last seven years as the vice president of administration and finance for Roxbury Community College.
In their interviews, all three expressed a devotion for Provincetown. Hepner said he called Groux-White Consulting before there was even an advertisement for the position.
After interviews with the select board on Feb. 24, four out of the five board members picked Morse. Select board member Louise Venden preferred Pinck at first, but later changed her vote to make the choice unanimous.
“Alex has been in the business 10 years and he had to fight for everything he’s got,” said select board member Robert Anthony.
Morse was born to teenage parents, was raised in public housing in Holyoke, and became the first to graduate from college in his family, he said. He began his campaign for mayor of his home town while still a senior at Brown. He was the city’s first openly gay mayor and, at 22, the youngest. His election garnered national media attention.
The select board members mentioned his ability to work with 15 councilors in Holyoke, which the charter reduced to 13 during his tenure, according to Morse.
Re-elected mayor four times, in 2020 Morse rode out accusations of inappropriately dating students at UMass Amherst, where he lectures. The university cleared him of wrongdoing and found he did not violate campus policies. The accusations, which were reportedly fueled by political rivals, may have cost him his bid in the Democratic primary to unseat U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. Morse told the select board he was done running for national office.
Given all that, Provincetown politics should be nothing new to him.
“Alex has a tremendous skill set,” said Murray. “He worked with a 15-member council. I think he can move these selectmen in a more proactive direction.”
Morse began negotiating this week with the select board for a salary advertised as $175,000 to $195,000 with a possible housing bonus. His annual salary as mayor of Holyoke has been $85,000.
Select board chair David Abramson said one of Morse’s key accomplishments was his ability to get Holyoke’s immigrant community involved in local governance. That’s a critical issue in Provincetown that has only worsened as the real estate market has widened the divide between “the haves and have-nots,” Abramson said.
“That’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” said Morse, who is fluent in Spanish.
About 50 percent of Holyoke’s residents are Latino, predominantly Puerto Rican, Morse said. Yet, when he first became mayor only 8 percent of board and committee members were people of color. Now, that’s up to 40 percent, Morse said. And the number of women serving in Holyoke’s government has gone from 24 percent to over 50 percent, he said.