As a special meeting approached to discuss a personnel issue, several Town Councilors said they didn’t know what the next step would be regarding a Town Administrator.
A special nonpublic meeting was scheduled by Council Chairman Tom Cardon for Tuesday, Aug. 25, after the Nutfield News went to press. The Nutfield News filed a Right-To-Know request for its minutes.
The reason for the meeting was listed as RSA 91:A, (a) The dismissal, promotion, or compensation of any public employee or the disciplining of such employee, or the investigation of any charges against him or her, unless the employee affected (1) has a right to a meeting and (2) requests that the meeting be open, in which case the request shall be granted; (b) The hiring of any person as a public employee; and (c) Matters which, if discussed in public, would likely affect adversely the reputation of any person, other than a member of the public body itself, unless such person requests an open meeting.
While no one would state who was the subject of the meeting, one current issue is the future of Administrator Galen Stearns, who went on paid medical leave July 16. The Town Council appointed recent hire Chief Financial Officer Susan Hickey as Interim Town Administrator the following Tuesday, but has announced no permanent plans.
Cardon said Monday morning that the Council has not decided what to do about the administrator situation. He declined to comment on whether Tuesday’s meeting would be focused on Stearns.
Stearns, reached by phone on Monday, said he is currently undergoing therapy, with a date for back surgery in mid-September. “I’ll recover from that and see how things stand then,” he said.
Stearns said he has had no official contact with the Town Council, but that Councilor Phyllis
Katsakiores had telephoned him to see how he was doing.
Stearns was hired this past October after two searches conducted by the Council to find a successor for former Administrator John Anderson. Stearns, a Windham resident and former Antrim administrator, came on the job Nov. 3. His starting salary was $115,000 per year.
Several Councilors were unhappy with Stearns earlier this year when he came in with a budget proposing to trim $1 from the tax rate, after the Council had directed him to craft a budget cutting $2 from the tax rate. He was praised by other members of the community, who thought the cuts from the Council’s directive would be too steep.
The Council eventually worked out its own budget, cutting $1.21 from the tax rate, a budget that was approved 4-3 and went into effect July 1 of this year but continues to be protested by some residents.
Albert Dimmock, vice-chair of the Council, said he had heard “nothing yet” about what the Council plans to do in the Stearns matter. “Nobody’s heard from him, and the Council has not met,” Dimmock said.
Dimmock declined to speculate on the reason for the meeting.
Katsakiores, who had just returned from a religious retreat, said, “I prayed for Derry and for Mr. Stearns.” Katsakiores, a devout Catholic, said she prayed for unity in the Council, which has seen several split votes since the budget vote. Katsakiores, Joshua Bourdon and Richard Tripp often vote differently from Cardon, Dimmock, Mark Osborne and David Fischer.
“It is chaos,” Katsakiores said. “We feel shut out. We need to work together.”
She has called Stearns to check on his welfare and said she still considers him her Administrator. “He is still a town employee till the termination of his contract,” she said.
Councilor Joshua Bourdon said, “I have no idea what’s going on, besides what you report.”
The Council has been on a light schedule over the summer, and Bourdon said, “I’d like to see us get back to having regular meetings, so we can work on some of these issues.”
As far as Stearns is concerned, Bourdon, like Katsakiores, still considers him the Administrator. “I’d like to see him get better, like to see him get back to work, like to discuss some of these things and see some progress,” he said.
Councilor Richard Tripp said, “All I know is that we’re having a meeting Tuesday night. I can’t comment on that.”
Tripp also would like to see Stearns back on the job, at least for a while. “We need to work with him. If he’s doing things we don’t like, we need to talk about it,” he said. “He may be a diamond in the rough and just need some polishing.”
Tripp was elected to the Council after the executive search was concluded and was not involved in Stearns’ hiring. “I don’t want to go through the administrator search again,” he said. “That was painful.”
But he wonders if a search would even bring resumes. “Derry has been so poorly represented by all of this – who would come?” he asked.