Casey Sharpe, the executive secretary in Oak Bluffs, has announced she will resign her position effective Sept. 30, leaving selectmen to search for yet another top manager to guide their town.
For Oak Bluffs, it's a routine all too familiar to selectmen, who have been unable to retain any of their four executive secretaries beyond a two-year period. Ms. Sharpe, widely praised for her management skills, has been on the job just 18 months.
In a letter dated May 31, Ms. Sharpe cited no specific reason for her resignation, and when contacted yesterday in her office, she said she wanted to pursue other opportunities in public service on the mainland.
"I'll definitely be moving forward," she said, adding that she is weighing options that might include a return to academia.
While Oak Bluffs politics may have driven away some of her predecessors, Ms. Sharpe said the pressures of running a town hall known to get feisty at times played no role in her decision to leave.
"I've spent the last 20 years of my life engaged in some level of political activity," she said. "My strength was dealing with disparate groups of people who were not always on the same page and making sure everyone felt respected."
Selectman Ken Rusczyk said, "Oak Bluffs politics can be rough and tumble and sometimes we do take our gloves off. There were instances that weren't fun for [Ms. Sharpe]."
But Mr. Rusczyk stopped well short of asserting that the climate of politics in Oak Bluffs has contributed to a revolving door for their town's top management position. Rather, he said people simply change jobs more often now than in the past.
"Peter Bettencourt [town adminstrator in Edgartown for 36 years], he's the old school," said Mr. Rusczyk. "Nowadays, most employees move around a lot." Meanwhile, Tisbury was able to hold on to its most recent executive secretary, Peter Fohlin, for six years before he left last year for a similar post in Williamstown.
Before Ms. Sharpe, Katie Nunez served for two years as executive secretary, resigning under pressure of what she viewed as harassment from former selectman Linda Marinelli. Previous to her time was Barry Johnson, who also put in two years. The town's first executive secretary, Jeffrey Burgoyne, also left under political pressure after a short 18-month tenure.
But, in contrast to other resignations, Ms. Sharpe's cannot be linked to some bad blood in town hall, said Michael Dutton, chairman of the selectmen.
"Part of me is pleased that Casey is leaving for personal reasons that have nothing to do with the job," he said.
Mr. Dutton added that Ms. Sharpe will leave town hall and the town itself in much better shape than she found it in January of 1999. "She's taken our town from a place where we were just plodding along to a point where we're in pretty great shape," he said.
Both Mr. Dutton and Mr. Rusczyk pointed to Ms. Sharpe's accomplishments to streamline the financial management in town. Tax bills started to go out on time, and different departments functioned more efficiently thanks to consolidation and better communication, they said.
In recognition of her work, selectmen voted last spring to give Ms. Sharpe a 25 per cent hike in salary, from $52,000 to $65,000 a year.
"Casey has a way of bringing people together," said Mr. Dutton. "She is very tough and doesn't take things personally, and yet is very pleasant and open with people. When the employees found out yesterday she was leaving, they were all really sad."
Ms. Sharpe's decision to resign comes as the town is trying to conclude a $15 million wastewater construction project. She has pushed the concept of allowing a private firm to manage the sewer operation, and she plans to see that goal achieved.
"There are big things to do between now and the fall," she said.
A lawyer by training who worked extensively with various national labor organizations, Ms. Sharpe said she is proudest of her work in town that "turned around the image of Oak Bluffs as being wasteful and overly bureaucratic."