Council President Matt Frank reported on Tuesday that he has called a meeting to begin the process of selecting a new city manager, and more pressing, what the Council wants to do for the interim.
The meeting will take place on Monday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. in City Hall.
“I don’t think a lot will be set in stone, but you might say it’s a jam session so we can figure out what people want and what the preliminary process will look like,” he said. “It seemed to make perfect sense to have it happen Monday night to get the ball rolling.”
Already, discussion among the ranks has focused on what will happen in the interim when Ash has to leave – which will likely be in late December.
Some ideas that have been floated are having Assistant City Manager Ned Keefe serve in the interim, or perhaps tapping the services of some well-known leaders from the recent past to step in temporarily.
“We’re going to look to the past and the best practices for this process,” said Frank. “This has happened before and it will happen again. It’s unique because Jay had a great vision and he stayed a long time.”
Once the interim discussion is settled, the Council will be tasked with finding a new city manager, and Ash said he expects the Council to have a boatload of choices.
“This is going to be an attractive position for people to seek,” he said. “I think the City Council will have many candidates to pick from. I fully expect there will be somebody in this seat who will do the job differently that I did, but who will do the job that the residents of Chelsea will need. I’ve always believed there is more than one way to do a job successfully.”
Frank said that will be a key discussion once the Council focuses on a new city manager.
“The next city manager might not be going out on a Saturday morning to clean graffiti off the buildings,” he said. “Maybe that person will. We don’t know. We have to keep an open mind and not expect the job description to be exactly like what Jay Ash has done. He made the job his own and next manager probably will as well. We need to think about what we want the new city manager to be.”
According to Ash, one great challenge will be to figure out what kind of city Chelsea wants to be moving forward. He said Chelsea is on the cusp of needing to decide whether it wants to stay a small city or move up to a medium city – such as Somerville.
“I’ve been thinking an awful lot about the Chelsea of the future and it has many bright days ahead, but one challenge will be for the City leaders to decide if we want to remain a small city or become what others already believe in that we’re a medium city,” he said. “That decision has implications about how city government works. The great thing about Chelsea is it’s a small town in an urban setting where everybody knows everybody and everybody talks to everybody…In the future, it could be that this medium city takes on a new feel.”
Ash said a piece of that transition will be beefing up personnel in many departments, communicating with residents, championing denser development and fighting the pressures of gentrification.
Other councillors have noted that one priority they’ll have in choosing the new city manager is the strategy for crime and crime fighting. At least three councillors in loose conversations said that will be a top item on their lists.