Stearns Says Town Council Asked Him to Resign

While Town Councilors remained mum about his future, Town Administrator Galen Stearns confirmed last week that he was asked to resign, but chose to take medical leave instead.

Stearns is being paid $2,211.54 per week since his leave of absence began, according to Catherine St. Ledger, the Town’s Human Resources Coordinator.

Stearns, reached at his Windham home on Aug. 6, said he has severe back trouble. “I’m not getting much sleep,” he said. “I am scheduled to meet with a surgeon.”

Stearns said he has no further direction about his future with the town. “I told them we’d talk about that when I get done with my medical problems,” he said.

Stearns announced his medical leave Friday, July 24, appointing Department of Public Works Director Michael Fowler as interim Town Administrator. Reasoning that Fowler had a lot on his plate with summer paving projects, the Council appointed Chief Financial Officer Susan Hickey as interim the following week.

Stearns came on the job in November 2014 after the Council conducted two separate searches to replace former Administrator John Anderson, who concluded his relationship with the town in October of 2013 after being placed on paid administrative leave following an arrest for indecent exposure. He was later found not guilty of the charges.

Stearns served on the Windham Board of Selectmen, School Board and Planning Board. He previously served four years as Town Administrator for Antrim.

Stearns ruffled Council feathers in April when he presented a 2016 budget that would result in a $1 cut to the tax rate. Councilors had asked him for a $2 cut to the tax rate. Councilors later crafted their own budget, which resulted in a $1.21 cut to the tax rate but also made cuts to services deemed severe by some residents (See related stories pages 1 and 3).

An RSA 91:A request by the Nutfield News for nonpublic minutes regarding Stearns’ relationship with the town has been denied.

Though Councilor Albert Dimmock was quoted in another media outlet as stating publicly that Stearns had been asked to resign – and Stearns told the Nutfield News that he was asked to resign – councilors reached last week chose not to comment on the matter. Dimmock maintained that he had made his statements off the record and “every time I talk to the newspaper, they twist my words around. This whole thing has been blown out of proportion.”
Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores also declined to comment, but expressed dismay that so many things are done “behind closed doors.” The longtime state representative remembers when RSA 91:A, the Right to Know law, was passed and said, “There are parts I agree with and parts I don’t. Some things should be kept private, some not.”
Councilor Joshua Bourdon said, “I’m still not allowed to talk about it,” and Chairman Tom Cardon said, “I have no comment on that.”
Stearns signed a three-year contract with the town in October of 2014. The contract is scheduled to expire Oct. 31, 2017.
He is entitled to one sick day for every month of employment, accumulating up to 36; two vacation days per month, accumulating up to 20; and two paid personal days per year.
The contract stipulates that upon “resignation, retirement, termination or death,” he will receive reimbursement for up to 30 accumulated sick days
Stearns’ contract also stipulates that if the town terminates him prior to Oct. 31, 2017, he is entitled to a severance pay of 16 weeks of salary.
He can be terminated “for cause,” including conviction of a felony, misdemeanor or major motor vehicle offense; conduct that puts the employer in “disrepute;” failure to perform any duty or responsibility of his agreement; misconduct or “gross negligence” in carrying out obligations; commission of an act of fraud or dishonesty in carrying out obligations; and material breach of the agreement.
If his employment is terminated for cause, he is not entitled to severance payment and is only entitled to prompt payment of unpaid salary through the date of termination or any unused accrued vacation days.