Stearns Takes Surprise Medical Leave, Councilors Tight Lipped

Citing RSA 91:A, Derry Town Councilors remained mum this week on any other factors that might have contributed to Town Administrator Galen Stearns’ medical leave.

Stearns left his position last week, informing the Council by e-mail that he had taken a medical leave of absence.

Public Works Director Michael Fowler will serve as Interim Town Administrator, Town Council Chair Tom Cardon said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Asked whether Stearns’ performance and possible departure had been discussed in nonpublic session prior to the medical leave, Cardon declined to answer, saying it was a “personnel issue.”

He also declined to say whether Stearns had resigned, was forced to resign, or if the town would begin a search for a new Administrator.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen,” Cardon said.

Town Councilor Mark Osborne, also reached by phone on Tuesday, said he was “not able to comment” on whether discussion had taken place prior to Stearns’ e-mail. “Hypothetically, if such a discussion did take place, it would involve the entire Council,” he said.

Osborne said he “had no clue” that Stearns was suffering from medical problems and that the first he knew about it was when the e-mail arrived on Friday.

“With the manner in which he did this,” referring to Stearns, Osborne said, “I have no idea what we’re going to do next.”

Stearns was “wonderful to work with,” Councilor Phyllis Katsakiores said. “He was kind and gentle, pleasant. I am going to miss him.”

Councilor Joshua Bourdon agreed, saying in a phone interview, “Galen was a pleasure to work with. His responses were prompt. He was good at returning calls, returning e-mails – he was very professional.”

More than that, Bourdon said, Stearns was “level-headed and even-keeled,” qualities needed in a tumultuous year.

“It has not been the easiest year in Derry’s history to be the Town Administrator,” Bourdon said. “He had a lot to deal with, more than most Town Administrators.”

Stearns was formerly the Town Administrator for Antrim, after a career in the business field. He came to Derry last fall after a search process conducted by the Town Council to find a successor for former Town Administrator John Anderson. Anderson concluded his relationship with the town in October 2013, after an incident in July of that year in which he was accused of exposing himself to a Direct TV salesman. Anderson was later found not guilty.

Stearns was unanimously approved by the Council in its Oct. 7, 2014 meeting, after a second search process narrowed finalists to himself, Peter Graczykowski of Rhode Island, and Troy Brown of Londonderry out of 100 applicants.

In Windham Stearns served as a selectman, on the School Board, Planning Board and Capital Improvement Committee.

His starting salary was $115,000 per year and he came on the job Nov. 3.

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 effected by 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 (see related story page 1).