The Derry Town Council has determined not to fill the eliminated-but-restored Human Resources (HR) Director position, choosing instead to tweak a current position and hire a part-time assistant.
Interim Town Administrator Susan Hickey reported in the Nov. 3 Council meeting on a recent study by MRI (Municipal Resources, Inc.) on the functioning of the current Human Resources staff.
According to MRI, the staff, which includes Hickey and two other people, is adequate, with some adjustment, for a community the size of Derry.
The Human Resources Director position was formerly occupied by Larry Budreau of Manchester, who also served as Assistant Town Administrator. Budreau’s position, at $150,000 per year, salary and benefits, was eliminated in a budget cut voted on May 19 and approved by a 4-3 vote of the Council. His position ended June 30, and Hickey and the remainder of the HR staff have been doing the personnel functions of the town.
However, eight referendum petitions were voted on in a special election Oct. 13, and all won approval. Reinstating the HR Director position won by 57 votes.
That is the will of the people and must be acted on, Hickey said.
The report was prepared by Don Jutton, president of MRI, with input from Norman O’Neil, senior consultant with the firm. Jutton wrote in his report, “Given the budgetary constraints Derry is currently facing and the fact that the Town Council eliminated the position of Human Resources Director/Assistant Town Administrator in the most recent budget, the Interim Town Administrator is interested in identifying a viable alternative to having an executive level human resource staff position as part of the town’s senior management team.”
Jutton wrote, “The consultants believe that a workable alternative could be achieved by promoting the current Human Resources Coordinator (Catherine St. Ledger) to the role of Human Resources Manager, adding a part-time Human Resources Assistant to handle ‘transactional functions,’ and assigning responsibility for oversight to the Chief Financial Officer (CFO).”
Jutton continued, “Though not an ideal structure, this type of organizational approach would provide the town with the capacity to complete the myriad of human resources-related transactions in a community the size and scope of Derry, while allowing for compliance oversight, some limited strategic planning, and program development.”
O’Neil met with Hickey; Robert McCarthy, the Payroll and Benefits specialist; and with St. Ledger.
Jutton’s report recommended the following:
• Add back the senior human resources leadership capability by combining it with the CFO position currently occupied by Hickey.
• Eliminate the Human Resources Coordinator position and replace it with Human Resources Manager (St. Ledger).
• Add a part-time clerical Human Resources Assistant position.
• Update the job description for the Payroll and Benefits Specialist.
• Shift some of the duties of the Payroll and Benefits Specialist to the Human Resources Manager and assistant.
• Consider going to a biweekly payroll system to reduce the workload associated with weekly payroll, freeing up the Payroll and Benefits Specialist for other duties.
• Revise all job descriptions accordingly.’
• Develop a comprehensive Human Resources plan to address the town’s needs three to five years down the road.
Hickey suggested hiring the part-time assistant instead of filling the HR Director position, and using the savings to hire a part-time Economic Development Director.
In a phone interview Friday, Council Chair Tom Cardon said the decision was Hickey’s as to what to do with the funding for the restored position.
“We did not take a consensus,” Cardon said. “That would be micromanaging.”
But, he said, “It is a perfect opportunity to save the money from that position and to hire an Economic Development Director.”
Cardon, who also chairs the Economic Development Committee, said he would be pleased if the position were created and filled. The town has talked about it for a while, he said, but he was concerned about adding a position to next year’s budget. This would solve the financial impact of such a position.
“Even if it’s part time, it’s a start,” Cardon said.
Another solution proposed
Budreau attended the meeting and spoke in the public comment portion.
Budreau contended that the MRI study was only done because of the position being eliminated and is no longer relevant.
“It is incomplete and obsolete,” he said.
Budreau told the Council that they were obliged to fill the position due to the vote.
Under those conditions, he said, “I expect to be recalled.”
However, he said, he is also interested in helping to fill a perceived leadership vacuum by reprising his role as Acting Town Administrator.
Budreau pointed out that Derry has gone through four permanent and six Interim Town Administrators in 11 years. “Derry sorely needs leadership,” he said.
Budreau said he had provided “thoughtful leadership” to the town during his 10-year employment. “I urge you to reappoint me as Acting Town Administrator,” he said. He said he would work closely with Hickey and, “Two heads are better than one.”
Budreau proposed that his appointment extend until the new Council is elected in March 2016. He said he could assist in budget preparation and “hold the fort” until the 2016 election.
“I am passionate about my work,” Budreau said. “I hope we can look back on this period as an unfortunate bump in the road.”
But the Council chose to reappoint Hickey as Interim Town Administrator for a 90-day period (see related story page 1).
In a phone interview Thursday, Cardon said not restoring the HR Director position to full-time status is not going against the community’s vote. “We asked our attorney,” he said, “and we were told it’s okay. The petition just stated that the money has to be put back in. It doesn’t state it has to be full time. It could be part time.”
The item on the warrant read, “Shall the voters of the Town of Derry repeal the May 19, 2015 action taken by the Town Council to eliminate the full-time position of Director of Human Resources/Assistant Town Administrator and reduce the Town Administrator’s proposed budget for the Executive Department by $150,000 by repealing the Town Council vote to ‘eliminate the full-time position of Director of Human Resources/Assistant Town Administrator including salary and benefits in the FY 2016 budget for a total reduction of $150,000 from the Executive Department budget’ and the Council’s corresponding action to reduce the Executive Department budget by this amount, thereby: 1. Retaining the Director of Human Resources/Assistant Town Administrator position; 2. Raising and appropriating the additional sum of $150,000 for the position of Director of Human Resources; and 3. Correspondingly increasing the FY 2016 budget approved by the Town Council and impacted by the repeal of this specific item by $150,000?
In a phone interview Friday, Budreau offered no comment on his future with the town.
Budreau, who is currently working for the Town of Nashua, said in his reading of the petition it is “unequivocally clear” that the position and funding should be fully reinstated.
Neil Wetherbee, who brought the town to court over the petitions along with Jenna Paradise and Brian Chirichiello, said in a phone interview that in his reading, the petition “absolutely” calls for reinstating the HR Director position.
“If you read the language of the petition, that’s what it says and that’s what people voted on. I don’t know how they can get around that,” Wetherbee said.
He also read the MRI report and like Budreau, noted that it was “premised on the fact that the cut had taken place and how they were going to deal with it.”
Wetherbee compared the issue to doing a study on the Fire Department based on the cuts, which left the department with one less fire station and eight fewer positions, rather than the current four stations and staffing.
“The question is, how do we handle HR with the funding we have now?” Wetherbee said.
He added, “It is a clear vendetta against Larry and I don’t know why. I thought he did a great job.”
Wetherbee said he doubted if he, Chirichiello and Paradise would take the town to court again, noting that “That costs money.”