Residents Rally to Support Welch
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, September 16, 2011
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Current Town Manager
Current Chairman, Board of Selectmen
HAMPTON -- Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols came under fire Monday night for abstaining from a deadlock vote to offer Town Manager Fred Welch a new contract, and for his own personal ambitions regarding the job.
"I don't think Fred needs to get an answer on the (deadlock vote)," said Budget Committee Vice Chairman Mary Louise Woolsey. "The reason is the chairman wants the job and the salary that goes with it."
Several residents, including former selectman Ben Moore, demanded the board reconsider its vote and offer Welch a new contract.
The uproar began after last week's non-public deadlock 2-2 vote (with Nichols abstaining) on whether to offer Welch a new contract after it expires on March 11, 2012. The tie vote led the board to agree to search for a new town manager, a search officials said will begin later in the year.
Selectmen Mike Pierce and Jerry Znoj voted against offering Welch a new contract, while selectmen Rick Griffin and Bill Lally supported keeping Welch.
Nichols abstained from the vote, saying if the town manager's job were available, he might apply for it and didn't want the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Resident Ed. St. Pierre told selectmen he has started a petition to keep Fred Welch and urged residents who agree to contact him at email@example.com.
"I can't sit back and watch this happen," St. Pierre said. "It's disturbing, and I heard someone describe it as bizarre, that a sitting board member basically created an open position (he wishes) to fill."
St. Pierre said Nichols should reconsider his vote to abstain. If he doesn't reconsider — and wants to seek the town manager position — St. Pierre said he should step down from elected office.
Woolsey said she had concerns about Nichols potentially violating the selectmen's Code of Ethics, which states no selectmen will use the seat for public gain.
"I have received many comments over the weekend and the most frequent one is, 'Do you think Dick Nichols will take a vote to make himself manager?'" Woolsey said.
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 selectman's post but would not participate in the hiring of a new town manager.
"But you are already participating," Woolsey said.
After hearing from the public, Lally said that next week he will make a motion to have the board reconsider its position.
The only reason he decided to wait was because Griffin was not in attendance Monday night.
"I received more comments about this than any other issue, including the ice storm in 2008," Lally said. "I think you guys misread what the townspeople want. You misread the public's trust in Fred."
Lally, who made the motion to offer Welch a one-year contract, said Welch has done a good job as manager. The tax rate has remained stable and there has been no need for layoffs.
He alluded to Nichols' ambitions to become town manager.
"This is an attractive job," Lally said. "I can understand why you want to apply for it. No one would apply to be deck hand on the Titanic."
Nichols said he would allow Lally to make the motion next week if no one from the board objected.
Prior to the meeting, Nichols informed the public about the non-public vote on Sept. 6 regarding the town manager contract.
He also said the consensus of the board was, because it was a deadlocked vote, that Welch should apply for the position.
Welch, who came on as the town manager in March 2007, said he intends to apply for the position.
"I don't want to leave so I guess I will have to apply," Welch said.