Tough jobs, quick exits

Many town managers say acrimony, firings are simply an occupational hazard

By Johanna Seltz

Globe Correspondent / April 5, 2012

Google the words “town manager fired’’ and you’ll get about 80,000 results, ranging from the bizarre – the Florida manager let go in 2009 for marrying a porn star – to the more mundane stories of disagreements over tactics or personality clashes.

The sheer volume of news points to what officials say is a truism about the top administrative job in any municipality: Getting fired is an occupational hazard. It’s a scenario that just played out in Cohasset, where selectmen tossed out town manager Michael Coughlin last month after only six months on the job.

“It’s not like other industries, where being fired or feeling pressure to resign carries a stigma,’’ said Michele Frisby, spokeswoman for the International City/County Management Association. “It’s viewed as part of the job, something every manager faces.’’

That may be because town managers and administrators are “the visible side of everything government does locally, and people care deeply at the local level,’’ said David Luberoff, executive director of Harvard University’s Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. And managers traditionally are not protected by union rules that make it difficult to get rid of other municipal employees, he said.

“It’s a really hard job,’’ he added. “Town managers can get fired for all kinds of reasons, and I think it sort of comes with the turf.’’

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