Recreation Committee Miffed with Dismissal

Front Page / Oct. 23, 2008 12:00am EDT

By M. D. Drysdale

Recreation Committee Miffed with Dismissal By M. D. Drysdale

In a tense meeting last Wednesday evening, several members of the Randolph Recreation Committee were sharply critical of the decision not to rehire Paul Easton as director of the programs at the Randolph skating rink.

However, the Committee’s ex-officio chair, Selectman Joe Voci, offered full support for the Boys and Girls Club of the White River Valley, which runs Randolph’s recreation programs under a contract with the town.

Meanwhile, representatives from the local advisory committee of the Boys and Girls Club said bluntly that the Recreation Committee has no business inquiring into its hiring practices at the rink.

However, the concerns expressed at the meeting will result in a meeting today between Easton and the B&G interim executive director Judy Moore. The face-to-face meeting was promised Wednesday night by Gus Meyer of the B&G Club to explain to Easton more fully why he’s not getting a contract.

And this week, when asked, Moore would not say definitively that the dismissal of Easton is a "done deal."

"We’ll find out when we talk with Paul," she said. "We’re meeting with Paul to discuss the situation."

The criticism at Wednesday’s meeting cited "public frustration," both with the dismissal of Easton and with the process itself.

"What is the evaluation process and how is the public to get an explanation?" asked committee member Josh Plavin. Others asked whether the decision was made at the B&G board or by staff.

Moore, who was not able to be at the meeting, told The Herald this week that members of the local B&G advisory council were not involved in the decision.

It was a decision that she largely made herself, she said. She did, however, discuss it with the chairman of the overall B&G board, which oversees the clubs in four communities. That board chair is Ernest Kiefer of Hartford, she said.

The four towns the club serves are Randolph, Northfield, Bradford, and Hartford.

Moore said that the decision was made based on her inspection of personnel files, as well as a discussion with Kiefer. The Recreation Committee was not consulted, nor was it officially informed of the decision until Wednesday’s meeting, she said.

"We have never taken personnel matters to the selectboard or the Recreation Committee," she said. "That’s not how the contract reads."

Selectman Voci emphatically agreed with that position Wednesday.

"In my perspective, the B&G Club has done a great job," he said. "Personnel is their business.

"At times, people are replaced. We have no issue with the B&G Club until the time they don’t fulfill their contract (with the town),." Voci said.

Gus Meyer, a longtime board member and sometimes chair of the local B&G board, went even farther, when Recreation Committee member Jen Guarino expressed concern about the handling of the Easton affair.

"I want to make sure the staff is well treated," she said.

That, Meyer said heatedly, is none of the Recreation Committee’s business. "You’re not in a position to get into whether or not the staff is treated well," he said. "You don’t go down that road—it’s a personnel issue. You are just supposed to talk about programs."

A different perspective was expressed by Larry Bayle, the former director of the B&G Club in Randolph, who helped create the arrangement by which the club runs Randolph’s recreational programs.

In remarks at the meeting, and in a letter to The Herald, Bayle said the original idea was that the club should "work in concert with" and "consult with" the town’s Recreation Committee.

"It sounds like that isn’t happening," he told the meeting.

He said he hopes the current difficulties can be overcome, because the Randolph model is "creative" and is being cited elsewhere in the state, "and I would like to see it work."

Those expressing dismay at the non-renewal of Easton’s contract and/or the process surrounding it included Recreation Committee members Plavin, Guarino, and Jon Kaplan, as well as former Selectman Larry Richburg and Michael Penrod of the Friends of the Rink. Both Penrod and Richburg have donated many hours of labor to rink improvement.

Easton’s wife Andrea is also a member of the Recreation Committee and attended the meeting.

"I’m concerned for the program, which has been top-notch," Kaplan said early in the meeting. "We get monthly reports from the B&G Club, and no concerns have been mentioned from them or from the public that would explain a pretty drastic change," he said.

"Paul has been an integral part of that rink since long before the B&G Club came along."

Penrod also declared that "this town needs an explanation."

He said he’s heard that Easton was given a raise and a promotion just a year ago for good performance, so the current action "just doesn’t make sense."

"Where are you going to find somebody with more experience and more dedication and more heart than Paul Easton?" he queried.

He urged the club "not shut the door" on the matter.

Jen Guarino had questions about the overall direction of the B&G Club. Noting that Moore is an interim director, she asked about planning for a permanent one. "You’ve had a ot of change in leadership over the last year," she said.

"That is not relevant to this discussion," responded B&G Board member Sue Sytsma.

The "direction" of the rink program came up for discussion, as Easton had said he was told that the board wanted to go in a "new direction."

A tentative skating schedule was distributed by Randolph director Kelly Mitchell, but Rec Board members said it looked very much like the old direction.

Moore this week would not confirm whether a "new direction" for the rink was being considered. "We are working on the direction of the program," she said.

She said a search committee has been formed from within the board and hopes to have Easton’s former position filled within a month.

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