New finance director, comms chief for Amherst, council clerk not leaving after all

Amherst Town Hall.

Amherst Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-29-2024 3:20 PM

AMHERST — A new finance director and communications manager will begin their tenures with the town in the coming weeks, while the clerk to the Town Council is remaining in her position, but with expanded responsibilities.

Melissa Zawadzki of Williamsburg was announced Tuesday as Amherst’s new finance director, starting July 1, an appointment made by Town Manager Paul Bockelman that is subject to review by the Town Council. Zawadzki replaces Sean Mangano, who left Amherst last summer to become executive director of finance for the Holyoke public school.

To handle outreach from Town Hall, Samantha Giffen has been appointed as communications manager, coming in on June 17 from her role as assistant director of the Frederick E. Berry Institute of Politics at Salem State University.

At the same time as the new hires, Council Clerk Athena O’Keeffe, who had recently been selected as assistant town administrator for Montague, will instead be taking on additional work for Amherst, including strategic planning and legislative affairs management.

Zawadzki brings more than 20 years of public finance and municipal management experience, beginning as the assistant treasurer in Northampton, and serving as either treasurer-collector or finance director in Easthampton, Palmer, Agawam and Southbridge, before becoming senior director of human resources at the University of Massachusetts Auxiliary Enterprises.

Bockelman said Zawadzki will work alongside Comptroller Holly Drake, Treasurer-Collector Jennifer LaFountain and Principal Assessor Kim Mew.

“She brings an extensive knowledge of municipal finance, having served multiple communities in similar roles. She also brings skills in municipal finance software and management systems,” Bockelman said.

Zawadzki has degrees from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington and Bay Path University, has earned the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s Certificate in Local Government Leadership and Management from Suffolk University, and is a certified public procurement officer, municipal treasurer and municipal collector. She also serves on Williamsburg’s Finance Committee and Capital Planning Committee.

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The search committee for the finance director was was led by Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek and included Bernie Kubiak, a non-voting member of the Finance Committee; Anurag Sharma, professor at the Isenberg School of Business at UMass and a former member of the town’s Finance Committee; Pamela Nolan Young, the town’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; and Serena Harris, the town’s human resources manager.

For communications manager, Giffen has extensive experience in developing and implementing communication strategies, and in her current role at Salem State, she has focused on inspiring college students to become more engaged in politics through a variety of educational and experiential programs.

Coming to Amherst, Giffen hopes to to do outreach and engage more people in local government issues, especially Amherst residents not often invoved in local decision-making.

Giffen, who Bockleman said will be relocating to the area, will take on some of the responsibilities Brianna Sunryd held before leaving last September. Giffen is also a member of the board of directors for the League of Women Voters Massachusetts and co-chaired the league’s Voter Engagement Committee.

Meanwhile, O’Keeffe, a town employee since 2015 when she began as management assistant in town clerk’s office, most recently had been part of the interim finance team that managed the town’s fiscal year 2025 budget process. Her expanded role as clerk to the Town Council, a position she has held since 2019, will encompass strategic planning initiatives and legislative affairs.

“Now, more than ever, it is crucial that the town recruit and retain strong leadership to manage the ever more challenging environment in municipal government,” Bockelman said.

“Athena is a tremendous asset to the town and I am very pleased she will continue to work in this expanded role,” Town Council President Lynn Griesemer said.

O’Keeffe earned a master’s degree in public administration this month from Suffolk University and was inducted into the Pi Alpha Alpha Honors Society for Public Affairs and Administration.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.