A variety of staffing matters consumed nearly all of the West Tisbury selectmen’s time during their regular meeting Wednesday, held on Zoom. 

The board decided to keep the position of emergency manager separate from other town departments following a discussion sparked by selectman Skipper Manter’s suggestion at last week’s meeting that the job could be placed under the fire chief’s supervision.

Former West Tisbury emergency manager John Christensen and former Edgartown assistant emergency manager Jim Klingensmith both strongly opposed making the emergency management position a subordinate part of the fire or police department.

“If you’re the assistant, they don’t want to talk to you,” Mr. Christensen said. “You don’t have the status you need as the head of a department.”

Mr. Klingensmith told selectmen that a dedicated emergency manager can have a significant effect on the town’s ability to receive funding through the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

“If you don’t have someone in charge writing emergency plans and mitigation plans . . . you will not get FEMA money,” Mr. Klingensmith said. “You can save a lot of money if you can get somebody focusing on it,” he continued. “The fire chief doesn’t have time for that.”

The federal agency’s recommendation is that emergency managers should be separate from other departments, Mr. Klingensmith said. “Their job is to facilitate all other agencies.”

Once in agreement, selectmen then reviewed West Tisbury emergency manager Russ Hartenstine’s proposed 2022 budget, which includes a $25,000 stipend for Mr. Hartenstine, a $7,000 stipend for his assistant and a $5,000 stipend for the town’s share of an Islandwide assistant emergency manager. Expenses for the department are given as $11,565.

The $5,000 budget request will be made by the other Island towns’ emergency managers as well, Mr. Hartenstine said, and the assistant emergency manager will be shared by all towns.

Mr. Manter recommended breaking that request out into a separate warrant article for the annual town meeting, in order to show a less-steep increase in Mr. Hartenstine’s budget. Selectmen Cynthia Mitchell and Kent Healy concurred.

The recent resignation of cemetery superintendent Warren Gowell, who was approved for the part-time job in late September, led to consensus that the cemetery work should become part of a third, year-round, full-time position in the highway department.

“We absolutely could keep them busy,” said town administrator Jennfer Rand, noting that while the cemetery work is intermittent and unpredictable, many smaller maintenance projects that are currently contracted out by the town could be performed by a third highway department worker.

“No question about it,” highway superintendent Richard Olsen said.

In past years, the two-member highway department has hired a seasonal third worker. But Ms. Rand said towns around the Island are having trouble filling seasonal positions.

“In talking to other department in other towns, they’re having a very hard time hiring at all, so the job has to be meaningful,” Ms. Rand said.

“Frankly, the trades are on fire and there’s a lot of work to be had . . . This would create something meaningful, which means that we’ll probably have a wider pool of people to pull from,” she said.

The large job of cemetery mowing would continue to be contracted out, at least for the first year, Ms. Rand added.

After selectmen backed her plan, Ms. Rand said she would bring more details to the board at next week’s meeting.

Ms. Rand also placed on the record a fact she said had been omitted in a letter to selectmen from retiring fire chief Manuel Estrella 3rd, whose job the town will soon begin advertising.

“We had gotten a letter from the fire chief suggesting a very good candidate in house at the fire department,” Ms. Rand said.

“It was not stated in the letter, and it needs to be stated publicly, that he has a [personal] relationship with that person.”

Chief Estrella’s letter to selectmen recommended deputy Chief Greg Pachico, who is his son in law.

Selectmen agreed to begin advertising in February to replace Chief Estrella, who retires June 30.

Also Tuesday, selectmen appointed Brian Smith to the town personnel board for a term lasting until April.