With Monday’s confirmation that Commissioner Bill Evans is retiring from the Boston Police Department and the immediate appointment of William Gross as his replacement, we can safely describe the post-re-election remaking of Mayor Marty Walsh’s cabinet as massive.

Holders of the administration’s two highest-profile positions—Evans, and Boston Public Schools superintendent Tommy Chang—are gone. So, in the past 12 months, are the city’s Budget Director, Chief Financial Director, Chief of Environment and Energy, Chief of Arts & Culture, Chief of Health and Human Services, Chief of Innovation and Technology, Chief Resilience Officer, and the mayor’s Chief of Staff.

The quantity of changes isn’t itself a sign of trouble. Many of Walsh’s top appointees had served since he took office in 2013, a good stretch of time to give to a high-profile public service position. Some, likely including Evans, probably told the Mayor some time ago that they wouldn’t stay through the second term. Others were just a coincidence of timing: a congressional seat opening that Chief of Staff Dan Koh wanted to run for, for example; and accusations of sexual harassment becoming public against Felix Arroyo.

Whether you think Chang wasn’t up for the school job, or believe Walsh scapegoated him, you can’t be surprised that he’s been shown the door. The exact cause of some departures have not been publicly aired, but you can’t blame any of them for wanting to find new opportunities—or fault Walsh if he wanted to seek an upgrade.

The question, really, is not why there’s so much turnover in Mayor Walsh’s administration, but what kind of second-term team is he assembling?

The answer can perhaps best be summed up by something William Gross said at Monday’s press conference, where he was named the new BPD commissioner.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Gross said, describing his approach to the new job.

If you’re a critic of Walsh, that sums up the mayor’s inability to face, let alone address, the shortcomings of the city. If you’re a supporter, the same phrase rings true of Boston’s positive direction.

“You put together teams that make sense at a specific point in time,” says David Sweeney, Walsh’s chief of staff. In the mayor’s first term, Sweeney says, the administration assembled lots of detailed plans, which voters effectively ratified in re-electing him by a wide margin. “We know what we need to do in the second term, so the focus is on people capable of executing the mayor’s plan.”

Executing the mayor’s plan isn’t the sort of job description that requires—or would appeal to—a top national talent, looking to bring fresh eyes, outside experience, and autonomous leadership to the table.

Gross, a very popular second-in-command under Evans and the city’s first black commissioner, fits the bill perfectly. So did Evans, who Walsh made permanent commissioner almost immediately after taking office in January 2014.

Other big-city departments often hire their top cops away from other big cities. Even ultra-provincial Boston brought in its two previous commissioners from outside the department: Ed Davis was chief of police in Lowell; Kathleen O’Toole was a consultant and former Massachusetts state police official.

With very few exceptions—Sweeney says that he has been interviewing from outside city government circles for the open Innovation and Technology post, which Jascha Franklin-Hodge left in January—the second-term makeover is coming from within or close to Boston’s city government.

When Koh left to run for Congress last August, Walsh replaced him with Sweeney, then the city’s Chief Financial Officer. To replace Sweeney, Walsh hired Emma Handy, a former state government budget guru working across the river at Cambridge’s Broad Institute. The new budget director, Justin Sterritt, came from the state house. Austin Blackmon has been replaced as environment and energy chief by Chris Cook, Walsh’s head of Parks and Recreation. Arroyo was replaced at HHS by Marty Martinez, a long-time collaborator with city government as CEO of Mass Mentoring Partnership. Lori Nelson was moved from Boston’s Housing Authority to replace Atyia Martin, the city’s first Chief Resilience Officer.

Each of these picks has received considerable praise and virtually no controversy. The same goes for a number of management appointments just below these top posts, also filled almost exclusively from within or in close connection to the city government. Although the overall diversity of the administration remains a work in progress, big appointments such as Martinez and Gross, along with holdovers including John Barros and Jerome Smith, inoculate Walsh from much criticism.

“The team going into the second term looks very solid,” says City Councilor Matt O’Malley. “It’s shaping up to be quite strong.”

Cutting through the process

It’s not just the people that matter in staffing top city positions, however; it’s the process.

Walsh, in his second-term administration makeover, has not just ended with familiar local talent; he has skipped even the appearance of a public, nationwide search.

In fact, the mayor seems to prefer—as he does with many plans—to reach a decision quietly within a small circle of people who can keep secrets, so that he can present a fait accompli to the public.

He kept Evans’s retirement under wraps—even denying a WBZ report weeks earlier—so that he could announce Gross’s appointment at the same press conference Monday. (The mayor’s office insists that the Evans departure for Boston College was not a done deal at the time of the WBZ report.) Similarly, the news of Blackmon’s departure was simultaneous with the announcement of Cook’s promotion, and the same with Sweeney replacing Koh.
Other appointments have happened quickly, with little if any reporting about the process or potential candidates along the way.

Most notably, Walsh has taken criticism for seeming to bully the school committee into dismissing Chang, and hiring Laura Perille as acting superintendent, in a rush last month. Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi even accused Walsh of planning to make Perille permanent without any real public process or scrutiny. “An attempt to back door this candidate into a permanent seat,” as NAACP Boston’s Tanisha Sullivan put it in that column. The Walsh administration denies the charge.

But Walsh may well have discovered, as Menino did before, that a formal search process with public input sounds better in theory than in practice.

Those processes have become problematic for much of the public sector, but especially in the crazy hothouse of Massachusetts politics. Just this year, public searches for a new University of Massachusetts chancellor and head of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau have been derailed. There are simply too many opportunities for someone to sabotage the search.

Menino learned the lesson many times over. His national search for a new superintendent, after Thomas Payzant announced his retirement in 2005, took two years. It ended well, with Carol Johnson, but along the way an appointee backed out four months after being announced, and the head of the search committee resigned.

Walsh got his taste when he inherited the search to replace Johnson. The presumed favorite for the job, Dana Bedden of Richmond, withdrew his name at the 11th hour of the 18-month process; after his name leaked out as a finalist, people in the Virginia capitol lobbied hard and convinced him to stay. Not only did Boston lose its candidate, but Chang was then saddled with the public knowledge that he was the guy nobody really wanted.

In the Boston Globe, Marcela Garcia wrote that one of the biggest losers in the process was the “public process” itself.

The city’s nationwide search for a new Boston Public Library president, following the resignation of Amy Ryan in 2015, was another fiasco. One finalist, from Chicago, withdrew her name late in the process. Another, Jill Bourne of San Jose, withdrew after winning the job. The trustees ended up giving the job to interim president David Leonard.

“There is a potential for a process to become too cumbersome,” Sweeney says. “You want to do these things very intentionally.”

Again, the judgment will be in the eye of the beholder. Those skeptical of Walsh will see a lack of transparency, a shutting out of community voices, and an inevitable stocking of government with loyalists and sycophants. Walsh boosters will see a confident leader identifying strong talent to carry out the mandate of his re-election. Both views, in fact, might be true.