Michael Dutton resigned abruptly from the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen on Monday, and is now expected to apply for the town administrator position, soon to be vacated by Casey Sharpe. Mr. Dutton has served on the board since 1999.
Selectman and board chairman Duncan Ross read Mr. Dutton's letter of resignation at Tuesday's regular selectmen meeting, marking the second consecutive meeting to begin with an announcement of resignation.
Ms. Sharpe the town administrator resigned on May 9. She is expected to stay on through early July while selectmen interview candidates and choose her successor.
"Starting these meetings with resignations is starting to drive me crazy," Mr. Ross said at the outset of Tuesday's meeting.
Mr. Dutton's resignation was effective at the close of business on Monday.
Reports that Mr. Dutton intended to apply for the town administrator job began to circulate immediately following Ms. Sharpe's resignation two weeks ago. Last week, Mr. Dutton told the Gazette he had no interest in the position.
Reached by telephone yesterday, Mr. Dutton said a number of people had urged him to consider applying for the job, and so he decided to step down as selectmen while he weighed his options. He emphasized he had not made a final decision about whether to apply for the position.
In his letter of resignation, Mr. Dutton states he anticipates the "possibility of making an application to the board for the position of town administrator," adding: "The action I take is not easy. I have been privileged to serve the town of Oak Bluffs as an elected official."
Massachusetts ethics laws require any member of a town board or commission to step down at least 30 days before applying for an appointment to a paid staff position such as town administrator.
"While I have not decided whether to apply, it would be unfair and unethical of me to participate in any discussions regarding the position, the hiring process, or anything else relative to the hiring of a new town administrator," Mr. Dutton wrote in his letter.
"In all fairness to the board, I thought it was better to step down as early in the process as possible. I realize that I should play absolutely no part in their decision," Mr. Dutton said yesterday.
On Tuesday the four selectmen present - Roger Wey was absent - briefly discussed the process for filling Ms. Sharpe's position. Selectman Kerry Scott pressed for the formation of a search committee that would identify and interview candidates.
"Because an application may very well be submitted by one of our very recent colleagues, I think it is important to avoid even the appearance of favoritism," Ms. Scott said.
Mr. Ross disagreed, arguing that selectmen have chosen candidates and hired the town administrator without a search committee in the past.
"The town administrator works for the board of selectmen. It's a very different situation from say, hiring a police chief, for example. So I will agree to disagree with you," he said.
Ms. Scott pressed the issue, arguing that a search committee could help attract qualified candidates from off-Island.
"I believe there are very talented people who live here on the Island, but it's up to us to cast as wide a net as possible. This position has allowed for a $12,000 a year living allowance. I don't think we will have a problem attracting top candidates from off-Island," she said.
The following day Mr. Ross softened his stance, and said he would support a search committee if his fellow selectmen wanted to appoint one.
"I think its arguable that you could do it both ways, but I don't see any reason to get into a big debate. Appointing a search committee isn't going to hurt the process," he said.
Ms. Sharpe was hired as the town executive secretary in December of 1999, before resigning in June 2001 to become the assistant to the superintendent of Martha's Vineyard Public Schools. She was hired as the town administrator in April of 2002.
Ms. Sharpe was paid an annual salary of $84,000 in fiscal year 2004-2005, according to the town report.
Selectmen have scheduled a meeting for today at 3 p.m. in the meeting room of the Oak Bluffs library to set a date for a special election to fill Mr. Dutton's seat. Applications for the position of town administrator are due by June 15.