Pownal administrator Walker placed on leave
POWNAL — Town Administrator Michael Walker was placed on paid administrative leave Friday for reasons the Select Board has not yet disclosed.
According to board Chairman Bryan Harris, he was authorized by the board during an Oct. 22 special meeting to administer disciplinary action on behalf of the board concerning all employees and appointed town positions.
Harris said Monday that he informed Walker on Friday that he was on paid leave "until further notice."
Asked about the reasons, Harris said, "At this time, no, I can't comment."
Walker confirmed the notice he received from Harris but said he has retained an attorney and was told "not to talk about it."
He said he believes a meeting will be scheduled for late next week dealing at least in part with his leave.
There is currently "no time frame" for further actions by the board concerning the administrator, Harris said, but he also indicated a future meeting is being considered.
He confirmed that there was no specific Select Board vote to place Walker on leave, and that he was authorized on Oct. 22 to take such an action and also to assume day-to-day control of town operations.
According to posted minutes of the Oct. 22 special meeting, the board went into an executive session to discuss personnel with the administrator, town listers and one of the town auditors. At that time, Walker was asked to contact the town's information technology contractor to finish a computer-related task.
The minutes then state: "Town administrator, listers and auditor excused."
A second executive session on personnel followed, according to the minutes. After that had ended, "[Elizabeth] Rowe moved and [Robert] Jarvis seconded for the chairman to administer diciplinary action on behalf of the board, but can be reversed at next Selectboard meeting by supermajority of the board [4 of 5] to change. This is for all employees and appointed positions. The motion carried unanimously."
Officials also listed as present at the start of the open portion of the meeting were Harris; board members Marlena Pellon and Harry Percey Jr.; listers Wendy Bisson and Jodi Morrison, and auditor Crystal Gardner.
Administrative Assistant Linda Sciarappa was listed as absent. Contacted on Monday, Sciarappa said she couldn't discuss the situation and referred comment to Harris.
Walker was hired in June 2018 as Pownal's first town administrator, following creation of the position after a 2016 townwide vote to authorize the Select Board to hire an administrator or a town manager.
The board later decided that an administrator was best for Pownal and began soliciting input from other towns with an administrator. Beginning in 2017, the board began writing a job description, the hours to be worked, salary and related details.
Walker was hired at an annual salary of $65,000, without health insurance or other employee benefits provided, over a three-year contract. He was hired to work full time under the direction of the five-member Select Board.
Other details of the contract include that the salary would remain the same over the three-year period, and there will be an annual reviews of his performance by the Select Board.
The job is be an at-will position, according to the contract, meaning the board could remove the administrator before the end of the contract period through a majority vote.
Pownal Select Board members and others had expressed over a number of years the need for administrative help in the town of just under 3,500.
Residents frequently complained that the Select Board, made up of part-time officials, failed to coordinate town operations and needed a point-person in the office with authority to make decisions, research grants, state regulations or legal requirements, so that the board could make informed decisions.
Retired from Navy
Walker retired from the Navy in 1994. At the time of his hiring he was president of Walker Public Safety Consultants, and also an adjunct professor of public administration, fire science and public health at Anna Maria College in Paxton, Massachusetts. He has been a volunteer firefighter and instructor and a past fire chief of a town fire and rescue department, and has served in other communities as a fire and rescue squad member, officer or fire chief.
According to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns Assistance Center, there are approximately 30 town administrators in Vermont.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien
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