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The Ed is dead
Worcester is left without its self-anointed king
I just don’t believe it.
City Manager Ed Augustus is not the type of guy, based on everything I’ve seen in my time covering this city, that would step down so abruptly and unceremoniously as he did yesterday. This is the guy that, if you’ll remember, rolled a literal, physical red carpet down the back steps of City Hall for a minor league baseball team. It seems he would have anounced his “interim” replacement at the same time as his resignation, but that’s still a mystery. I would have expected, at the very least, a press rollout from his sycophants at MassLive—something akin to that goofy profile we got from them last December.
But nope, just a terse little statement from ol Ed.
Augustus announced his resignation yesterday afternoon and gave a departure date of May 31. After 8½ years at the wheel in City Hall, he’s giving the council a couple months’ notice and a promise that he will name an interim City Manager. His contract goes to 2025 but, quite conveniently, includes the clause that he “may resign himself from the office of City Manager at any time."
In his statement, he gives us no indication of where he’s going. In a subsequent interview with the Telegram he hints vaguely at higher education, and this is in line with a highly unconfirmed though well-sourced rumor he’ll be taking a job at Dean College. Other people are saying UMass. As far as rumors go, those are better than a lot of the junk speculation I’ve seen and heard in the past 24 hours.
But it’s just as likely that he doesn’t have some new opportunity—that he doesn’t know where he’s going, he just knows he’s got to get away from City Hall. He’s got a ticket to anywhere and he needs a fast car.
I’m inclined to believe the latter. Rumors have swirled for months now that he’s on his way out, but the nature of this departure—a terse statement on a Tuesday afternoon and only a passing mention of it on the City Council floor—felt too rushed to have been the result of months of planning and coordination. Some sort of controversy must have provoked it, and there are several possibilities.
Let’s get the funniest and least likely one out of the way first: Maybe Ed Augustus resigned because he picked up a copy of the Worcester Business Journal and saw the faces of me and my compatriots on Worcester Council Theater 3000 next to his and all the other real power brokers of the city in an article about Worcester’s political inner circle?
Maybe he saw my face in between his and Jim McGovern’s and decided, you know what, that’s the final straw—fuck this.
A more likely and far, far more serious controversy would be the departure of Stephanie Williams from the chief diversity officer job. Over the past couple weeks her resignation has prompted righteous outrage and calls for a serious examination of whether his administration is taking that position seriously. Just a day before Augustus’ resignation, Neal McNamara at the Patch published Williams’ resignation letter, which does not cast Augustus’ administration in the best of lights. In the letter, she compares the attention paid to racial justice at City Hall to that of an “extracurricular activity.”
“My decision to seek employment elsewhere is not due to lack of resilience, commitment, dedication and/or cause of any one situation, department, or person, rather; there are personal boundaries that conflict with the current culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion being an extracurricular activity without embracing all that a properly experienced CDO can do,” she wrote. “Chief diversity officers need more than a title to succeed and for me there are too many tradeoffs to being “resilient” vs acknowledging the (very) real challenges and (significant) institutional barriers.”
The “operational structures and business design” of City Hall and the CDO position within it left Williams with the sense her “skills would be better served in a more progressive work environment more equipped to support all aspects relative to the realities of this work,” she wrote.
The letter pretty much confirms the speculation, mine included, that the position was set up not quite to fail but to be rendered useless—something that looks good on paper but won’t rock the boat. It’s a Galaxy Democrat Brain move that’s completely in line with an administration most known and celebrated for its ability to sell the company store to developers and market it to the public as a renaissance.
In Augustus’ statement, he acknowledges the issue of institutional racism in the abstract. It is in fact the only political issue he includes in a statement that otherwise touts his record. From the statement:
Augustus acknowledged more work needs to be done as a community to fulfill his 2021 executive order to dismantle structural racism.
“I will remember confronting the anger, frustration and emotion faced in the fight for social justice following the death of George Floyd,” he said. “Institutional racism is real, and it exists at all levels. We are not where I want us to be, but I am committed, and I know my successor will be as well, to ensuring a city that truly embraces all people.”
Reading his statement, it’s not a wild conclusion to draw that the chief diversity officer stuff is what did him in. But I can’t in my heart of hearts believe that. Throughout his entire reign, he was quite content to ignore, buck, and drag on racial justice activists. The chief diversity officer issue is in line with a long record of tepidly offered compromise solutions without the teeth to make any sort of difference. I don’t see how this latest saga is any different than anything else that came as a result of 2020 or 2014.
In fact, a closer, more critical reading of Augustus’ statement could lead you to the conclusion he rather coyly included that bit about racism. Give ‘em some lines to read between, but steer them in a very specific direction. It tracks with the narrative of the past couple weeks and provides a very easy way for reporters to eek out a lazy “it wasn’t all sunshine and roses” passage in stories which are otherwise thorough hagiography. You know, for balance.
It’s entirely possible–and to my mind, probable–that Augustus’ resignation was provoked by something we flat out don’t know about—for now, at least. I’m working on that ;-)—and the concession on race issues is a way of taking a stab wound to dodge a bullet.
But all speculation aside, it’s important now that we watch the councilors and the manager very closely. The succession of power here has likely already been decided by people, Augustus included, who very much see themselves as above having to engage in any sort of open or democratic process when it comes to their dominion. While there’s names floating around—Assistant City Manager Eric Batista probably the most—we do not know who they have in mind.
It would be a shame if the City Council tried to repeat the flagrantly anti-democratic way in which it hired Ed Augustus—they brought him on as an “interim” City Manager, didn’t engage in a good faith search process, then gave him a full contract.
As Nicole Apostola deftly covered in a blog post at the time of Augustus’ hiring, the power players in Worcester have a habit of installing city managers in myriad sketchy ways.
The machine has its favorites queued up, and it’s planning on playing the same game it played so well ten years ago.
So Rick Rushton can say “Bottom line is Ed Augustus will be city manager whether you hold it under privilege or not, it’s not going to stop” in a meeting without fear of contradiction from his colleagues and with no worries about being made a liar.
Is it too much to ask the machine to pretend the game isn’t rigged?
Past precedent dictates that the right way to do it is not how the Worcester City Council is going to do it. Instead, we should brace ourselves for something fucky and weird.
Well that’s everything I know about the city manager situation but I will be certainly updating you guys as I get more. If you thought this post was better than the Telegram’s or MassLive’s (low bar, I know), keep in mind they charge you to read most of their stories now and I don’t. My paid subscribers are my ride-or-dies. The Sardaukar to the Padishah Empire of independent and fearless local journalism which I am attempting to build. Smash the button below to join the ranks.
And again I’m thrilled that Councilor Thu Nguyen came on Worcester’s Good But Hurts and the conversation was really great. We talk a lot about the institutional barriers of City Hall. You can find the podcast on Patreon, where the episodes are similarly free and a paid subscription is similarly optional, and also on Apple and Spotify.
Before the City Manager suddenly resigned, I originally set out this week to do a deep dive on Billy Riley, the man alleged to have used his position at the St. John’s soup kitchen to systematically and deliberately abuse vulnerable women. The latest on that story is that five elected officials in Worcester released a joint statement calling on the community to stand with the women speaking out.
“As elected officials, we stand with the survivors who courageously came forward to share the trauma and abuse they suffered under the guise of care. We believe survivors and honor their full truth. We condemn the violent act of using one’s position and leverage of resources to abuse, coerce, and exploit vulnerable folks. We join Living in Freedom Together, the survivors and allies in the community, in asking for accountability and justice for those who have come forward, as well as anyone else who may choose to come forward.
These stories remind us that exploitation, sexual violence, and abuse of power can fester even in places we perceive to be houses of justice, holiness and care. As a community, we must not withhold assistance and support for these survivors because these events happened on church properties or were perpetrated by those we once saw as moral leaders. In fact, we are choosing to step forward as elected leaders because we know that too often survivors go unheard and unsupported when victimized by institutions of power. We must act on the matter. We cannot be bystanders. We have the obligation and duty.”
The letter is signed by Etel Haxhiaj, Sue Mailman, Tracy Novick, Sarai Rivera and Thu Nguyen.
Speaking on Novick, she dropped us a good little update on the superintendent search on Monday. They’re looking at semifinalist applications currently, will announce finalists in early April and then pick a winner in May. On my end there’s not been a whole lot of chatter about who is in the running, but I did hear one local name the other night that’s not necessarily thrilling. Really hope we pull a competent executive with a fresh outside perspective from somewhere—literally anywhere—else. Lest we repeat the sins of our fathers, we cannot expect someone enmeshed in the political quagmire of Worcester to do a particularly good job as superintendent.
So yeah, what we’re looking at is a new superintendent, a new city manager and, should Petty fail up into the State Senate, a new mayor. Fun!
Ok that’s all for now!
And my Elden Ring people out there, any tips on beating Rennala? I’m playing a brute strength build and it is not good against magic.