City Manager Jay Ash has applied to become the executive director of Mass Development, a state agency that offers low cost loan and bond programs and a full range of real estate services that aids communities to redevelop commercial, waterfront, industrial or former real estate sites.
Ash made the revelation Friday with an e-mail to city employees.
MassDevelopment is the state’s finance and development authority, perhaps the most important state agency having to do with business development and job creation.
The news that Ash might be considering leaving the city manager’s position caused a great deal of discussion among elected public officials, city hall employees, residents and business people throughout the city.
Ash has served as the city manager for ten years. He is arguably the city’s most notable leader in its modern era. His positive impact on local development is the stuff of legend. His prowess as an administrator finds the city in a strong financial position.
Ash further revealed that he had turned down five job offers during the past two years.
“This time, I have finally decided to be an applicant for a job. But being an applicant does not mean I’m out the door,” Ash told the Chelsea Record. “It just means I’m exploring an option,” he added.
Public officials here sense that his leaving at this juncture would likely alter the city’s bright future in a major way.
Several councillors asked for their opinion about how to meet this possible leadership challenge were quick to give an answer.
“It is a credit to all of us that he’s being considered for so important a position,” said Councillor Brian Hatleberg. “I have every intention of doing whatever is necessary to keep him here,” he said.
“I don’t want him to leave. It is in the best interest of the city that he stay,” said Councillor Leo Robinson.
Robinson has been handling Ash’s contract negotiations for the city council as his contract is coming up for renewal.
The council offered Ash a new contract in December. However Ash has put off the contract negotiations while exploring the MassDevelopment option.
“He is struggling with the issue of whether he should pursue a career objective that he has long held or further commit himself to the place and people he clearly loves,” said Robinson.
At a hearing earlier this week, Council President Marilyn Vega-Torres. called for a sub-committee meeting of the full council to discuss the new development concerning Ash.
Councilor Calvin Brown said a meeting should be called immediately and an offer made in order to keep Ash in place.
“It is imperative that we do this as quickly as possible. It is important to the city,” he said.
Vega-Torres has scheduled a meeting for March 7.
Contacted at her home Tuesday evening, Vega-Torres said she was torn by the news that Ash might be contemplating leaving.
“He has done an excellent job. He’s turned the city around. I would hate to see him go,” she said.
“It would be a big loss for the city for him to leave and so we have to see what we can all do to impress upon him how important it is for him to stay,” she said.
There is speculation that the city council will offer Ash a new incentive to remain for another three years.
That incentive would be a raise that makes him the highest paid city official, with an anticipated $200,000 annual salary apparently to be suggested in order to induce him to stay.
“Nothing is set in stone. Everything has to be discussed among us – but one thing is for certain – a guy like Jay Ash comes along only once. If he stays, the city wins – and he wins. He would be worth every penny of the higher salary we should offer him,” Robinson said.
“We all know what he has done and what he will do in the future. There are no doubts about his work ethic or his abilities. Everything he has brought to the table during the past decade speaks clearly for itself,” Robinson added.
Echoing Vega-Torres and Robinson was Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes.
“I will wish him the best if he decides to go but I really hope he stays,” Kyes said.
Although Ash didn’t give an exact timeline, he said that he would be forced to make a final decision within a few weeks.
He needs to inform the council by the end of March whether or not he will be accepting his contract.
Ash is currently paid $149,000 annually, less than a handful of Chelsea police officers, school officials and firefighters.