The Town of Wellesley, following the departures this summer of its Human Resources director and assistant director, is rethinking how that department will operate in a job market where it’s become increasingly difficult for the municipality to hire and retain employees.
HR Director Scott Szczebak submitted his resignation on July 14, and Assistant HR Director Robin Tusino departed to take a job as HR director for Dover-Sherborn and the school system there. Tusino’s old job has been posted by the Town of Wellesley. It’s likely Wellesley will hire an interim director in the short term to replace Szczebak, recently a finalist for the town administrator job in Belchertown.
The Wellesley Select Board devoted more than an hour of its July 24 meeting (see Wellesley Media recording) to the topic of the town’s HR department and oversight.
First, the town’s Advisory Committee brought forth a recommendation that Wellesley consider shifting the reporting of the HR director from the appointed Human Resources Board to the town’s executive director. This recommendation stemmed from a theme that emerged during Advisory’s preparation for Town Meetings in recent years that departments were finding “the recruitment and retention of staff was very difficult,” said Advisory Chair Madison Riley.
While a tight labor market accounted for some of the challenges, “we were understanding there were concerns about the HR department’s appreciation for the day in and day out operational dynamics of the various town departments and also their support for those challenges,” Riley told the Select Board. He emphasized that Advisory’s thinking on this has been developing for a while, and the recent HR leadership departures was not a factor in this.
Advisory’s members pointed to organizational structure at companies where they work or have worked, and saw that the HR function typically reported to executive leadership. Other communities examined also were found to have a different reporting relationship than in Wellesley, Riley said.
The Select Board was receptive to the recommendation, and Executive Director Meghan Jop said the town has considered hiring consultants to do compensation and job classification analysis.
Select Board Member Beth Sullivan Woods said “I do think it is critical that we look at what HR services and structure is required today, because we’re a $200 million business, for lack of a better analogy, and we staff and we budget for something that doesn’t allow for retention, training, interim salary adjustments… So I think our needs are not in step with, or we’ve outgrown our little HR department in a lot of ways. I do think it is a really important juncture to study what that right model is.”
The Select Board later in its meeting moved onto an agenda item regarding a proposed memorandum of agreement between the Select Board and Human Resources Board to designate the executive director as supervisor of the HR director (initially expected to be an interim director). Jop’s duties have been piling up of late, with recent changes also adding supervision of the fire chief.
HR Board Chair Julie Moore, echoing the comments from Advisory Committee members, said during the Select Board meeting this week that the recent leadership departures provide “a really great opportunity to look at structure.” She added later: “Day-to-day supervision is needed, and as an outside, volunteer board, we can’t do that…” (The HR Board would still appoint the director.)
The Select Board approved the memorandum by a vote of 3-2 after some vigorous discussion and proposed amendments.
Select Board Member Ann-Mara Lanza said that while this agreement might be a good short-term solution in light of the HR department’s leadership departures, she would like to see a serious study, perhaps by a committee approved at Special Town Meeting, explore options for how the HR department should be run. It’s not unusual in town that volunteer boards manage town employees in Wellesley. “To me, this is a moment in time and Meghan is helping. But I do not want this memorandum of agreement to be the way we operate in the long term,” said Lanza, who voted against the agreement.
Board Chair Lise Olney described the agreement as a “stop-gap measure” for “a department that is essentially in free fall with no director or assistant director.” It will also provide an opportunity to explore longer-term solutions, she said.
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