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Swampscott finds itself short-staffed

This article was published 1 year(s) and 3 month(s) ago.

SWAMPSCOTT — To untangle the issues behind a more-than-normal turnaround of employees at Town Hall, the Select Board decided to task the town administrator with a detailed analysis of possible causes and solutions to the problem.

The Select Board zoomed in on the host of vacancies at Town Hall at its meeting on Wednesday night.

“It has been a very difficult challenge for most municipalities to deal with what has been referred to as the great resignation,” said Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald. “That said, we have had an unusual level of turnover.”

There are a number of positions currently open at Town Hall with the town clerk and administrative executive assistant leaving in the coming days. Besides the police chief and library director — positions with an interim person in place — the town has been trying to fill the vacancies of assistant engineer, human-resources director, building commissioner, senior planner and customer-service representative while going through a hiring process for the Police and Fire departments.  

At Fitzgerald’s suggestion, on Wednesday, the Select Board had to appoint Town Accountant Amy Sarro to perform interim town clerk responsibilities to continue servicing residents while the town looks for a new town clerk. 

Fitzgerald admitted that employee shortage puts additional challenges and burdens on the remaining staff. Demanding day jobs and long night meetings cause employees fatigue, he said.  

Fitzgerald shared a few ideas with the Select Board that could improve work-life balance, such as thinking about a childcare program for employees, possibly going on a four-day-week schedule, keeping board and commission meetings under 90 minutes long, or rewarding employees monetarily. The town administration has planned a $30,000 line for non-union employee incentives in the budget for fiscal year 2023, Fitzgerald said.

“It’s going to be important for us to work together to really think about ways that we can continue to ensure that Swampscott is a place that is attractive to dedicated public servants,” he said. 

Select Board member Peter Spellios suggested that Fitzgerald speak to his department heads and employees to give them an opportunity to share their ideas, and come back with a list of proposals so that the board can discuss various choices, make decisions and find resources.

“There have been some really good hires,” Spellios said. “The discussion here is not intended to lower your standard. You have done really well with hiring some really talented people to this town and you have been an agent of change.”

From his contacts on other select boards, Spellios learned that vacancies are higher in many communities, but the primary concern is the lack of applicants for the vacancies. He said that compensation has to be one of the factors to look at.

“There isn’t anybody here in our town who is overpaid and I think there are people who are remarkably talented who are underpaid,” said Spellios.

It costs more to lose people than to retain, he said. Spellios welcomed the idea of a daycare program and suggested looking at more educational opportunities for employees.

Select Board Chair Polly Titcomb proposed hiring an outside consultant who could conduct meetings with the employees and department heads and analyze compensation at Town Hall. She assured Fitzgerald that she believed in his abilities to run the town 100 percent, but was concerned that he was “stretched thin” and simply didn’t have time to do such analysis.

“This falls clearly in Sean’s responsibilities. If Sean decides he needs additional resources he can go out and get help,” said Spellios.

An outside human-resources consultant is currently conducting an assessment of Town Hall’s organizational structure, performance management, human resources and policies as well as diversity and inclusivity. This work will be completed in two months, Fitzgerald said.

The Select Board ultimately agreed that they have a consensus about the need to address the town’s staffing issues. They asked the town administrator to continue with hiring and onboarding of new employees while he performs analysis of the organizational structure, compensation and work-life balance of his employees. 

Fitzgerald is expected to present his findings, a hiring status update and ideas to tackle employee turnover in six weeks at the April 13 meeting.  

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