Town Manager Gets New 3-Year Contract

Front Page / Feb. 25, 2010 11:57am EST

By M.D. Drysdale

In a move that surprised most Randolph municipal watchers, the selectboard last week handed a new three-year contract to the town’s often-controversial manager, Gary Champy.

Champy still had 14 months left on his existing contract, but about a month ago asked the board for a longer contract with more job security.

“I want to keep him as town manager,” explained Selectboard Chair Larry Townsend, who strongly supported the extension.

The new contract starts March 3, the day after Town Meeting. In addition to extending the length of the contract to March 3, 2013, it also makes it more difficult to dismiss the manager. The old contract specified that he could be released without cause, with 60 days severance pay. The new contract says he may only be let go for cause.

The vote to approve the new contract came after about a 15-minute executive session at the conclusion of last Tuesday’s board meeting. Town Manager Champy attended the executive session, along with the board members.

The vote came quickly afterwards and was 4-0-1. Board members Townsend, Stephen Webster, Joe Voci and Carol Flint voted “Yes” and Dennis Brown abstained.

The contract extension came as a surprise to nearly everyone who follows town government, and reaction to the executive session and vote was swift. Contacted by members of the public, selectboard members Flint and Brown said that they quickly regretted their votes and wished they had voted ‘No.’ Both confirmed that to The Herald this week.

Timing Critical

The timing of the vote was generally seen as an attempt to make it more difficult for a new board to discharge the town manager. Selectman Webster did not dispute that.

“We wanted to give him more protection,” he said this week. “I was fearful that he would start looking for a new job, and I don’t relish searching for a new town manager.”

Protecting the manager against a possible change in the outlook of the selectboard after March 2 was certainly part of the board’s consideration, he said.

One “open” seat on the selectboard (now held by Joe Voci) has two candidates on the ballot. One, Del Thompson, is known to be a supporter of the manager but the other, Larry Richburg, is known to harbor misgivings, and if he is elected, a substantial change in the balance of power on the board (which is prone to 3-2 votes) would be likely.

The issue is likely to come to the floor of Town Meeting, as well. Central Street resident Heather Jarvis has said she will introduce a resolution asking the selectboard to reconsider the contract. The resolution would be non-binding, because personnel decisions cannot be decided in Town Meeting.

The controversy has even spawned a write-in candidate for selectboard, opposing Larry Townsend, who is now unopposed. Randolph homeowner Rachel Westbrook confirmed she is seeking write-in votes on a platform of “respectful, civil discussion” on town issues.

An RUHS and UVM grad, she is a physical therapist working at Gifford Medical Center.

Issue Kept Quiet

Much criticism this week focused on the private nature of the selectboard proceedings. While Champy approached the board with his proposal a month ago and handed them a draft on Feb. 9, it never became public knowledge. Neither minutes nor any agenda indicates that the manager’s contract would be up for discussion.

Asked why the discussion last Tuesday was held in executive (secret) session, both Townsend and Webster noted that these are permitted for discussion of contracts.

However, state law says a secret session is allowed only if the discussion would leak information to the proposed contractor, thus undermining the town’s position. In this case, however, both parties to the contract—the selectboard and the manager—were present so there was no danger of exposing the town’s negotiating position.

“Maybe we made a mistake,” mused Webster this week. “But we can’t change it now.”

Both Brown and Flint said this week that the executive session, with Champy also present, was “intense” and they felt strong pressure, especially from Townsend and Webster, to present a united front with the majority.

“If I had to vote again, I would vote ‘no’ now,” Brown said. “This was a rushed way of doing things. Personally I think it was a way of protecting him (Champy) from the next board.”

Flint said she was convinced to vote “yes” because she knew she couldn’t change the outcome and feared that she would become less effective as a board member if she refused to go along.

Now, she said, “I do regret my vote.” Partly, she said, that’s because some changes were made in the contract that she didn’t understand properly.

She did not have a copy of the contract before the executive session, she said. “It was not in my packet; I had to ask for it. I’m assuming it was an oversight.”

‘Deserves Support’

Webster, in a Herald interview Wednesday, maintained that both the procedure itself and the outcome were proper and desirable.

Champy, he said, has been a good manager and deserves support in the future.

“I’m happy with what he did with the municipal buiding. He’s been on task with the (needed new) sewer plant and the water project on Route 66,” he said. “And I trust him.”

Agreeing the manager has been controversial, he noted that “A lot of people in town have their own agendas, and he has to deal with that.

“I’m happy with him. I’m sorry there are people and groups in town that aren’t.”

As to whether the current board should impose its wishes on the next board, Webster pointed out that the new board will probably change by just one member.

“I’m going to be on the board, and I don’t want to search for another town manager,” he said firmly. “Sewer, water, and highways, that’s what we have to do. And we need to keep our bonding capacity—the state can’t help any more because the state is broke.”

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