The Worcester City Council Tuesday appointed Eric Batista as acting city manager while the city conducts a search to permanently fill the position.
Currently an assistant city manager, Batista has been with the city since 2012. He’ll temporarily fill the void left by current City Manager Edward Augustus, who’s stepping down on May 31 after nearly nine years in the role.
During a city council meeting Tuesday night, Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty said Batista’s appointment will ensure stability in the city administration until the council decides on a permanent replacement for Augustus.
“I want a seamless transition,” Petty said. “Mr. Batista’s name popped up.... Someone who understands the city, who grew up here in the city, lives here in the city and has put his life work into the city of Worcester.”
Born in Puerto Rico before moving to Worcester as a child, Batista will be the first person of Latin American descent to run the city. He’s worked his way up city ranks from project manager to chief of operations and management.
In addition to currently serving as assistant city manager, Batista is the director of the Office of Urban Development and interim chief diversity officer. After the council appointed him Tuesday, Batista told GBH News he plans to delegate some of his current responsibilities to other city officials so he can focus on the acting city manager position.
“It’s just an honor and privilege to even be considered to be acting city manager,” Batista said.
While several council members supported Batista’s appointment, they raised concerns that the search process for replacing Augustus has not been thorough and lacks transparency. Petty has previously said the search would be “fair, equitable and transparent.” But during the meeting Tuesday, councilor Khrystian King noted he never saw a resume for Batista and called on the city council to hire a search firm to help manage the hiring process for a permanent city manager.
“We have a responsibility and obligation to be thorough,” King said.
Councilor Etel Haxhiaj added she’s been worried Worcester could repeat its history of appointing interim city managers and then hiring them for the permanent role before vetting other candidates.
Augustus, for example, was initially a temporary city manager in 2014 after Michael O’Brien stepped down from the position. During the search process for a permanent replacement, a city council committee put forward three finalists for the council to consider. But before councilors could deliberate and select one, they decided to choose Augustus. Similarly in 2004, the city hired O’Brien — an interim manager at the time — before completing a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
“Just because we’ve done things in the past a certain way, that’s not the way we should do it in the future,” Haxhiaj said. “I was concerned about the outcome being predetermined without having a process in place.”
After appointing Batista, city council agreed on steps to jumpstart a transparent search process for a permanent city manager. Councilors asked the city manager’s office to provide a report on what the job qualifications for the position should be. They also will begin considering hiring an independent firm who could manage the search process.