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Should We Replace Our Township/Borough Manager?


My previous blog post discussed what should be considered when possibly creating the position of township/borough manager. But more often, municipalities face the decision of replacing their current manager – either due to the manager’s resignation/retirement or potentially because it’s time to make a change.


It has been reported that a typical township/borough manager will remain in their position for between five and seven years. This can be due to a variety of reasons. The council or board members can change every couple of years when municipal elections are held. With a change in leadership can come a change in what the majority of the board sees for the future of the community. New ideas and values may find the Council and the Manager at odds over what direction should be taken to maintain and improve the government operation. The municipality is like a large ship that is owned by the shareholders, "the general public." The supervisors/commissioners/council members are like the board of directors of the shipping company, while the manager is the captain of the ship. To satisfy the shareholders, the board of directors tells the captain of the ship where they want it to go, and the captain's job is to figure out how to get it there as fast and as efficiently as possible. If the captain can’t complete the assignment to the satisfaction of the board, then they are forced to take action to keep the shareholders, the voting constituents, happy.


One important thing to remember is that that most municipal employees are "at-will employees," meaning that as long as a majority of the board agrees, their employment can be terminated without cause. If three of the five supervisors feel that the current manager isn’t what they see as the future of the municipality, then they can be dismissed. In short, managers serve at the behest of the board.


If the current manager is leaving due to retirement or has decided to resign for a different position, hopefully, you have a good well-written contract that will provide for a transition process to take place. You are still faced with the daunting task of finding a suitable replacement, but wisely, you’ve given your municipality some time to do so by requiring advance notification by the departing manager.


On the other hand, if the manager is being dismissed or terminated – and particularly if criminal behavior is involved – then the challenge of replacement is more time-consuming and cumbersome. Clear direction and defined goals are even more important.


If and when the board has to make the challenging decision of dismissing a current manager, damage control must become a priority in order to ensure the day-to-day operation continues smoothly and that a master plan has been put into place to find a suitable replacement in a timely fashion. Employees and residents will be less likely to express major concerns if a defined plan can be implemented quickly. Not knowing what the process will be and the timeline for the filling of the position can foster mutiny among other employees and loss of confidence in the board’s leadership by the residents.


Fortunately, alternatives do exist that can assist in making this tumultuous situation turn into a positive outcome for the municipality. If the decision has been made to remove the current manager, interim management is an absolute necessity. Failure to keep operations running smoothly will result in a domino effect. You'll need people with experience in municipal management to step in and see that all the various aspects of the short-term daily operation and all long-term developments are still being addressed. You may be surprised how quickly the governmental machine can break down without proper oversight by professionals. During this time it is crucial that proper recruitment of a new manager begins promptly and that qualified candidates are properly vetted and scrutinized to provide the best fit for the position. Is your township ready for this process?


When faced with manager vacancy – either due to resignation/retirement or termination – that is the time to contact Keystone Municipal Solutions (“KMS”) to fulfill those tasks. With KMS, the board can be confident that professionals are on deck and making sure that government operations are full steam ahead. The responsibility of finding a great fit for the open manager’s position is being attended to and that in a span of just a few short months interviewing the very best candidates will be taking place. The skilled team of experienced KMS members will have advertised across a broad spectrum and narrowed down the list of applicants to only those that best fit the needs of the community. You’ll be supplied with a list of definitive questions that should be asked during the interview process that will give you a true sense of the interviewee's abilities and qualifications.


Struggling to find a new manager shouldn’t be overwhelming, nor should it deter you from making the difficult decision to remove a manager that is no longer a good fit. These are challenging moments, to be sure. But having KMS's expertise to keep things on track and obtain new leadership provides you with reassurance and stability. We’re there when you need us.


So… Fire this thing up, we’re hiring a new manager.


About the Author

David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at david@keystonemunicipalsolutions.com. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.

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