Dukes County manager Russell Smith announced this week that he will resign after four years on the job.
Mr. Smith announced his resignation in public at the county commission meeting Wednesday night, although the plan for him to step down was discussed in executive session with the seven-member elected commission on Jan. 31. Minutes from that meeting were made public this week.
His resignation will take effect on May 1 when his current contract runs out.
“I have to say it’s important to me that I’ve tried for four years to put the county forward in a better light,” Mr. Smith said at the meeting Wednesday. “I walk out of here with my head high for the things I have accomplished. The county is to me, and for the people sitting in this room, a very important entity on the Island.”
Commissioner Leonard Jason Jr. thanked him for a job well done.
“We don’t always agree but I’ve never questioned your passion or love for this place,” Mr. Leonard said. “You left it better than how you found it and I thank you for that.”
Mr. Smith has held the position since 2008. He took over as county manager immediately following a period of change and turmoil that included rapid turnover in managers, tension between the county and airport commissions over roles and authority, and a community-wide examination of county government that never reached a strong conclusion.
Yesterday, commission chairman Melinda Loberg credited Mr. Smith with getting the county back on track. “I think he really fit the bill for that moment [four years ago] and his skills were just what [the commission] wanted,” Mrs. Loberg said in a telephone conversation. But she also said there was general agreement between the commission and Mr. Smith that the time had come for him to move on.
“As we have accomplished getting the county back on good footing . . . we have turned to looking at the future and what kind of leadership the county might benefit from now on,” she said.
She said Mr. Smith recognized that “he was going to continue to get pushed in ways that weren’t fitting him well . . . When he started to get the message that the commissioners were beginning to feel that he wasn’t doing the best job, he really took that to heart and said, okay, maybe now is the right time.”
The commissioners are looking for a manager with more of an “executive function,” Mrs. Loberg said, specifically someone with budgeting skills.
“He would be one of the first to say [managing the budget] is not one of the highest abilities he brings to the county,” she said. “He’s a hands-on kind of guy who prefers to be out there doing things.”
During Mr. Smith’s four-year tenure there were some missteps involving budget matters, including errors in the public bidding process for a window replacement project at the Edgartown courthouse. After the problems were flagged, the matter was sent to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office for review; the attorney general found that mistakes were made, but concluded that there was no wrongdoing.
Work has since stopped on the window replacement project, which will go out to bid again. All six towns contributed money to the project from their Community Preservation Act funds.
Mr. Smith, who is 57, has deep family roots on the Island and has been a longtime public servant here. He worked previously as a water quality engineer and planner with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, as the regional health agent at the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse and Resource Recovery District, and as a laboratory director for the county. He served two terms as an Aquinnah selectman. He worked as the legislative liaison for former Cape and Islands Rep. Eric T. Turkington from 1996 until 2008.
His performance as county manager came into question last April when after a job performance review, commissioners voted to extend his contract for only six months. In December commissioners decided to wait until his formal review in April to decide whether he should stay on the job. “I guess he read into that, they’re not happy with me,” Mrs. Loberg said.
Mr. Smith said he wanted to leave on good terms.
“It was my sense they were looking to have a different direction,” he said in a telephone conversation yesterday. “It’s important to me not to undo any of the good will toward the county I may have created during my time here.”
He also said despite some public opinion to the contrary, he believes county government remains important and relevant.
“County will never be the big government agency on the Island, but it’s important towns have the structure to be able to coordinate things,” he said.
Mrs. Loberg said Mr. Smith’s accomplishments included saving the animal shelter when the MSPCA threatened to close it.
“He has brought the county along from one place of need to achieving those kind of things,” she said. “Russell has always been extremely well-liked by the staff and commissioners, this isn’t about his personality and his willingness to work.” She added: “I think he should leave with his head high. He’s done a lot for the county and will continue to be a tremendous asset for the county and an advocate.”
The county commission will meet with the county advisory board to further discuss the manager position, Mrs. Loberg said, including whether it should be changed to part-time.
“We think it’s an important function and someone needs to have responsibility for that budget,” she said. “We could look at realignment . . . but that’s going to involve conversations with the towns because they have a key role here.”