Manager's Job Pact Rejected

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Selectmen Chairman Nichols Eyes Position

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, September 9, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Frederick W. Welch
Current Town Manager
Richard E. Nichols
Current Chairman, Board of Selectmen

HAMPTON -- If selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols gets his way, Town Manager Fred Welch will be out of the job come March 12 and Nichols would be a candidate to become Hampton's next town manager.

A selectmen's motion to offer Welch a new contract died in a 2-2-1 vote during a Tuesday non-public session that went longer than two hours, officials confirmed on Thursday.

Welch's contract with the town expires on March 11, 2012.

Nichols said on Thursday he abstained from the vote because if the town manger's job were available, he would want it.

"I'm considering applying for the position," Nichols said. "That being the case, I felt it would be a conflict of interest for me to vote on it."

Selectmen Mike Pierce and Jerry Znoj voted against offering Welch a new contract while selectmen Rick Griffin and Bill Lally supported keeping Welch.

The minutes of the meeting were not sealed. Per state law, those notes will be made available to the public within 72 hours of the non-public session — in this case, sometime on Friday.

During the session, selectmen as well voted unanimously to allow the incoming selectmen's board, after the March 2012 election, to select a new town manager.

Nichols notified Welch of the board's decision on Wednesday. The board chairman told Welch he was welcome to apply for the position next year if he so desired.

Welch said he was surprised by the board's vote.

"I like working in Hampton and I would like to continue to work here but it's not my decision," Welch said. "Unless there is another vote by the board (to reverse course), on March 12, I will be unemployed."

Welch said he wasn't given a reason on why he was not offered another contract.

"It was suggested to me if I wanted to have a reason, I could inquire with the individual members of the board, which I have not done as of yet," Welch said. "But they don't have to tell me why they voted in a certain way."

Lally said he was upset by the board's vote.

"I think Fred has been an excellent town manager and is one the best the town ever had," Lally said. "He's done exactly what we asked him to do."

Griffin agreed and said Welch should have been offered another contract.

"Obviously this is a very divisive issue with the board," Griffin said. "It's up to the people to take a look at what is going on here."

Griffin believes Welch is getting a raw deal.

"I don't think Fred was dealt with fairly in my opinion," Griffin said. "In my opinion, the board was making decisions this past year that Fred should have been making, and now Fred has paid the price."

Pierce said he couldn't comment on why he voted the way he did because it was a personnel matter.

"I can tell you, I gave it a lot of thought. I did a lot of listening and research on it and I felt in the end this was the best way to go," Pierce said.

While he was aware Nichols may apply for the position, Pierce said that fact did not play a factor in his vote.

"That wasn't considered at all," Pierce said.

Znoj could not be reached for comment.

Nichols' term on the Board of Selectmen does not expire until 2014. He said if he does apply for the manager's position next year, he would not resign his selectmen's post but would not participate in the hiring of a new town manager.

It would be similar, he said, to what former selectman Ben Moore did when he applied for the town manager's position that eventuality went to Welch.

Welch came on as town manager in March 2007, replacing James Barrington.

Prior to that, Welch served four years as town manager in Seabrook.

Welch also served as town manager in three other New Hampshire towns — Pittsfield, Belmont and New London. He also spent 21 years working in municipal government in Massachusetts.

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