Thursday June 6, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS - The Rockingham Finance Director said a contract will be drafted and signed by the end of the week making him the municipal manager of the village and the town.

Willis D. "Chip" Stearns, who has taken on the job of interim municipal manager since the termination of Timothy Cullenen in April, said he will be in talks with Rockingham Selectboard Chairman Tom MacPhee and Village President Roger Riccio, who were each authorized on Tuesday to finalize a contract with Stearns.

"We've been in the process all along," he told the media on Tuesday, adding that it will likely be a one-year contract renewable for a second year.

Stearns has been the Rockingham finance director since March 31, 2012, and has been at the forefront of the Rockingham Free Public Library renovation project, which has taken up much of his time.

Prior to being named interim municipal manager, Stearns had expressed interest in the job of Westminster town manager and sent in a résumé and cover letter. He said Tuesday he was offered the position following two interviews (as he never withdrew his application) and turned it down for the Rockingham job.

"Every day is exciting here. There is not a day that is not exciting," he said. "None of this is unfamiliar to me at all."

Baybutt Construction Corp., a Keene, N.H-based company, had been hired as the general contractor for the $2.9 million renovation of the library. But the project hit a snag months ago, when subcontractors refused to continue their jobs and insisted Baybutt had not paid them for the work already done. Rockingham town officials terminated a contract with Baybutt when the corporation's financial woes came to light.

Baybutt Construction did not take out a performance or a payment bond, which acts as a sort of insurance contract and was a project requirement from the town. The company's owner, Frederick L. Baybutt, declared personal bankruptcy in February.

The library has been the source of additional controversy, as its board of trustees voted to temporarily close it - upsetting many residents, who feel the trustees have an ulterior motive or hidden agenda behind their drive for closure.

Stearns said things are back on track and hopes to have the project completed the end of August.

Stearns, who 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.

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