Demand, many towns lead to shuffling of municipal managers
By MATTHEW SANTONI, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Jan. 26, 2018
GREENSBURG, Pa. (AP) — When Mt. Lebanon manager Steve Feller quit in 2015 to take a job with a nonprofit, one of the people who took on some of his responsibilities was Ian McMeans, who had been an assistant manager in neighboring Dormont, then manager in Homestead before coming back to an assistant position in the larger town.
In December, Tarentum hired away Jeannette's manager, Michael Nestico, offering him a $9,000 pay bump to $65,000 a year and citing his background in law and finance.
Just months after moving up from an assistant manager position in Wilkinsburg, Cindy Bahn left Blawnox to become West Homestead's manager in March.
And in North Huntingdon, Robinson manager Jeff Silka was hired in October for $110,000 a year, with a unanimous vote from commissioners praising his experience overseeing economic development.
The task of running a city, borough or township can be a complicated one, but the sheer number of municipalities in the area, constantly changing local politics and the relatively small talent pool means managers can — and sometimes must — hop from town to town as they climb the career ladder.
"We have mobility, but we also have to be nomads because of the market for managers," said Silka, 50, of Monroeville, whose career has included management jobs in Indian Lake Borough; Shinnston, W.Va.; Londonderry Township; Johnstown; and Monroeville. "Some people are fortunate; they get to walk in the door and retire there 20 years later. The norm, nationwide, (for managers) is five years."
Pay can surpass glory
Depending on the size of the community, municipal managers can be directly responsible for planning and zoning, budgeting, hiring staff and negotiating contracts, public works and public safety. In larger communities, they'll oversee other employees who handle those specific tasks, but they all report to their community's governing board or council.
There are no official, professional certifications for municipal managers, but most town and city governments are looking for managers with at least a master's degree in public administration, public affairs or business administration, Silka said.
The job can pay well, depending on a manager's experience, even among townships and smaller boroughs. The average manager for second-class townships made almost $85,000 a year in 2016, according to the most recently published surveys by the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
"It doesn't come with a lot of glory. It's a really tough gig, and you have to be really passionate about it. A little kid growing up isn't going to say, 'I'm going to be the manager of Heidelberg,' " said Kristen Maser Michaels, executive director of the University of Pittsburgh's Congress of Neighboring Communities.
A constant job shuffle
Michaels said the shuffle of managers among local municipalities is a by-product of a small group of qualified managers and a large number of communities in the area. Often, fresh graduates will start as assistant managers or managers in smaller communities, then work their way up to larger communities and bigger salaries.
"We have so many municipalities, and so many manager-strong governments, so I can see a council being reluctant to bring people in from somewhere else because they'd have to teach them how governments work here," Michaels said.
David Kraynik, president of the Association of Pennsylvania Municipal Managers, agreed, noting that having so many communities tightly packed into the urbanized areas of the state means that managers — particularly ones with families — could have many options for jobs without moving their residence.
"There are a lot of local governments in the area, so there are opportunities to move from one job to another and not necessarily have to uproot a family ... assuming (the employers) don't have a residency requirement," Kraynik said. "There could be dozens of towns within an hour's drive."
McMeans took a job as Dormont's assistant manager in 2010 after getting his master's degree in public policy from Carnegie Mellon. He jumped over to the top manager job in Homestead, then went back to an assistant manager/municipal planner position in Mt. Lebanon in 2016. For the past six years, he and his family have lived in Mt. Lebanon.
"I saw it as an opportunity to move up, being as I lived in Mt. Lebanon," McMeans said. "Mt. Lebanon is about 10 times bigger than Homestead across the board. ... There are a lot more services we're able to provide."
Some stay put
Mary Ellen Ramage is at the opposite end of the spectrum, having worked her way up from secretary to borough manager in Etna during a period of about 40 years, she said. Her personal connections to the people of the borough, along with a good relationship with the elected officials, has kept her rooted where her counterparts might wander.
"It was a job I took because it was close to home and I could save on travel expenses," Ramage said. "I just fell in love with the community, and I just kept moving up in the ranks."
Serving at a town government's pleasure can be another factor in the shuffle, as council majorities can shift with each election and change the community's priorities or attitudes toward a sitting manager.
Council elections typically are held every two years, and it's no coincidence that most managers' contracts also run for two years, Michaels said.
Information from: Tribune-Review, http://triblive.com