WELLFLEET — Two key town staff members have resigned and will leave as of July 6. Paul Fowler, the building inspector, and Mia Baumgarten, the media operations manager, have both accepted jobs in other towns.
Wellfleet now has five department head positions open. The town administrator and town accountant resigned in the same week in April. Mark Vincent, the longtime dept. of public works director, died on May 27 just months from his planned retirement. Jay Norton, the assistant DPW director, has been appointed acting director during the search for a new department head. Accounting and town administration are being managed by interims and temporary part-time staff.
One of the recent resignations may reflect the interconnected problems of retaining experienced staff members and out-of-control housing costs. Fowler, who served as building inspector for just eight months, has been hired as building commissioner in Dennis. He said he is leaving Wellfleet only because Dennis is closer to his Barnstable home.
“I was happy here, and I made a lot of friends,” Fowler said.
And when the town is able to fill a vacant position, if the new hire doesn’t already have a place to live here, finding one is a daunting problem. The current assistant town administrator, Rebecca Slick, has been working since April 1, but mostly from her home in Western Massachusetts. She said she could not find a place to live on the Cape until Aug. 28.
Baumgarten, 31, has been working part-time in Wellfleet and part-time in Orleans as its video technician. Orleans has offered to hire her full-time, and she has accepted.
Baumgarten’s resignation comes at a tricky time, as the town transitions from holding meetings on Zoom to in-person meetings. Many townspeople are now accustomed to participating and watching meetings from their homes. But the Zoom platform will no longer make sense once all boards and committees are meeting in person again — perhaps by summer’s end. Hybrid technologies exist to allow remote participation during in-person meetings, Baumgarten said. Orleans has set up such a system, with live cameras and Zoom.
“It requires some money, and a competent technician must be there,” Baumgarten said. “It’s totally doable. But you have to have staff.”
Does the Wellfleet Select Board want to invest in the staff and technology? That is the question, said Baumgarten.
The town brings in $100,000 a year from a public education and government contract with Comcast, and the funds must be spent on government access, she said. The money is there, but Wellfleet has not offered her a full-time position.
“I’m not leaving for any personal reason, except that I want a full-time job,” Baumgarten said. “I hope this board prioritizes this, because it is a really important public service.”
Recording all 25 town boards and committees could be done by one full-time person with one part-time assistant, she said. Baumgarten currently manages the technology and uploads in a 15-hour work week, and she gets hourly wages on top of her salary if she records meetings. She has two part-time assistants.
A resident of Wellfleet, Baumgarten was hired in 2018 and quickly began recording and broadcasting government meetings, something other towns had been doing for years. Since then, she has advocated to make meeting recordings mandatory, as is required in most other communities. She has met with resistance from the planning board, which is the only one in the county whose meetings are not recorded. The select board also had to be cajoled.
But on June 22, more than a year after everyone got accustomed to Zoom during the pandemic emergency, the select board agreed to require all meetings to be recorded. It voted to direct town staff to come up with a policy for recording all public meetings. The board members will vote again once the town administrator brings a finalized policy to them.
They will now need to find the staff to do that.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the number of hours per week worked by Mia Baumgarten; it is 15, not 18, hours.