Thursday April 18, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- The Rockingham Selectboard and Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees voted on Wednesday to name the town's finance director as the interim municipal manager following the official termination of Timothy Cullenen's contract.

Willis "Chip" D. Stearns II was unanimously appointed to the interim position, at a salary of $69,000 per year, for a three-month period.

Cullenen, who began as municipal manager in May 2011, was terminated from his position Tuesday following a vote of no confidence in executive session by both boards. The vote came during the manager's annual evaluation and the boards voted at an emergency joint meeting on Wednesday to officially terminate the contract. Cullenen will receive a three-month severance package.

Rockingham Selectboard Tom MacPhee there will be an evaluation of Stearns in three months.

The boards and Rockingham town attorney Stephen Ankuda would not provide specifics on why Cullenen was fired, except to confirm that a section of his contract permits the boards to terminate his position via a majority vote.

Both boards also authorized Stearns to sign any documents related to any contract or agreement previously approved by the boards and to join any committee, boards or committees with a position previously held by Cullenen.

Stearns, 50, has been the Rockingham finance director since March 31, 2012, and will continue to serve in that role.


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Two weeks ago, he expressed interest in the job of Westminster town manager by sending in a résumé and cover letter and he made it clear Wednesday that he has not withdrawn his application.

He said he applied for the Westminster job because he believes he has "a skill set to be a manager" and that he oversees many aspects of local government with his current position.

"Opportunities are always open if you've got keys and you've got doors," he said. "And as soon as you eliminate a key or eliminate a door, that opportunity doesn't exists. I am not counting out the opportunity of Westminster."

Stearns, who now lives in Springfield, told the media he hails from Saxtons River and graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School in 1980. He attended Lyndon State College, where he studied to be a broadcast technician, and began working at the New England Municipal Resource Center in 1989, beginning his career in finance.

"The whole process of local government and creating financial statements is what NEMRC primarily is driven by," he said. "They do non-profit fund accounting, primarily for schools and municipalities. You literally take municipalities who are on paper and you automate them to computerization. And I have done all that."

He said he would love to get Rockingham's financials on its website so the general public could have access to them.

Stearns said he had not spoken to Cullenen since his termination.

Cullenen said Tuesday night that he will be in contact with his attorney to fight his dismissal.

"It was an unjust termination and actions will be taken," he told the press.

Cullenen had already gotten himself in trouble with the boards following comments he made to a Bellows Falls citizen during a Nov. 13 joint board meeting. He soon after that took a leave of absence until Dec. 3.

Cullenen declined further comment when contacted by the Reformer on Wednesday evening.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.