Easthampton mayor tries again to add help to corner office

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Staff Writer
Published: 2/22/2022 8:13:34 PM
Modified: 2/22/2022 8:13:11 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Four years after an initial attempt to create a chief of staff position early in her tenure hit a roadblock, Mayor Nicole LaChapelle is trying again to hire someone to help her run the city’s corner office.

At the most recent City Council meeting, LaChapelle requested to add an executive assistant to the mayor to the city’s pay plan.

“The executive assistant position is another shift to a more professional municipal government in Easthampton. And those changes can ruffle feathers,” said LaChapelle in an interview with the Gazette.

She first sought to create a chief of staff position a few months into her first term as mayor in 2018 and planned to hire someonefg for the position through a personal contract, rather than through the city’s pay plan.

At the time, she said she drew on past practices of the office when making changes to the city’s departments and had proposed that the chief of staff would act as a “deputy” to the mayor and enhance the executive powers, duties and expanse of the mayor’s office. The original posting for job also noted that in the short-term absence of the mayor, the chief of staff “assumes responsibility as acting mayor.”

LaChapelle withdrew the posting after a review found that her process did not follow the city’s charter. She was also accused of creating a hostile work environment from former mayor Michael Tautznik.

Currently, LaChapelle is assisted by Municipal Clerk Lindsi Mailler. With the original onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the reduction of staff hours, LaChapelle said it was easier to identify many of the tasks Mailler performed for the mayor’s office, even though they are not in her job description. LaChapelle also noted that the pandemic presented an opportunity to identify a description for a position that was better suited to serve the mayor’s office rather than a description classified for a municipal clerk.

This time around, LaChapelle is proposing the position with the title of “executive assistant.” But before the proposal becomes an official job posting, it has to go through a few more steps.

Unlike previous meetings where a particular topic is presented to the council and discussed before being moved to another board or committee for further input, the request to add the executive assistant at the Feb. 16 meeting was referred directly to the Ordinance Committee. LaChapelle credited the change to Council President Homar Gomez, who has been working to make meetings and their agendas more efficient.

Once the Ordinance Committee has defined the position, it will be brought back before the council for a vote. If approved, the position can be added by the city’s human resources’ department and placed on city’s the pay scale.

After Councilor Dan Rist made a motion to refer her request to the Ordinance Committee, At-Large Councilor Owen Zaret inquired why the motion was referred to the Ordinance Committee rather than the Finance Committee. Gomez clarified that the Ordinance Committee needs to create a description for the position before money can be justified for the position.

Since assuming her role as mayor, LaChapelle said that many of the city’s job descriptions have been “cleaned up” and better clarified as a means to attract and retain employees.

Since this is a new position, if a new description is approved, the job will eventually need to be posted so that anyone interested could apply.

“In municipal government, titles are important. It doesn’t mean there’s 50 job titles. That office needs someone with executive assistant skills that can really project manage things and troubleshoot things very quickly,” she said. “I would say that the city needs it, but the residents deserve it.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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