Rockingham, Bellows Falls boards take on manager search

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BELLOWS FALLS — The Rockingham Select Board and the Bellows Falls Village Board of Trustees have adopted a game plan for choosing and hiring a new municipal manager.

The two boards, meeting in special session Tuesday evening, adopted the outline drawn up by Village President Deborah Wright, who said there was confusion over the responsibilities for choosing a new manager.

She said the problem was compounded by the resignation last week over the issue by Finance Director Shannon Burbela as the town and village human resources director. "The whole thing was a mess," Wright said.

Wright said Burbela thought she had the authority to screen and interview the candidates for the manager's job and make final recommendations to the two boards.

"That doesn't make sense, it wasn't appropriate," Wright said Wednesday, since it would give Burbela essentially the power to hire her boss - the new manager.

On a 9-1 vote, the joint board agreed with Wright's outline of the steps in the process. Only Gaetano Putignano opposed the plan, Wright said.

Putignano, the chairman of the Rockingham Select Board, said Thursday that Burbela was harassed by members of both boards, "micro-managing" the manager search process.

He said he felt Burbela should have done the selection of the candidates to be presented to the boards for a final selection.

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"The two boards are the committee to do the manager search," he said, saying he opposed such a move because he thinks it's too cumbersome.

"This is not what we talked about before," he said. "It's now changed."

Wright said that so far the town and village, which employ a manager jointly, have received 10 applications for the post. Applications will be accepted until August 17.

The job is posted on the town and village website, www.rockinghamvt.gov., as well as various professional job sites.

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Under the plan, all applications for the manager's job will be automatically forwarded to Wright, instead of Burbela, and Wright said she would turn around and send all the applications to all board members. Individual board members are free to do their own research into the candidates, but she said she doubted all would.

"It's definitely more work for everybody," she said.

The village president said the two boards had agreed earlier this summer only on the advertising strategy for the job, as well as the pay range, she said. She said there wasn't a vote giving Burbela the responsibility for interviews.

The two boards earlier had agreed not to hire the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to coordinate the search for the new manager, with the boards saying they could do the search in-house better and save money in the process.

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Wright acknowledged Wednesday that by doing it themselves, it will mean a lot more work for the board members, including herself.

The job, which is currently being filled by acting Town Manager Charles "Chuck" Wise, became vacant with the resignation of Wendy Harrison, who resigned after the two boards declined to renew her contract. Harrison had been manager just short of two years.

Burbela had been hired by Harrison in 2018 as the town's financial director. She was assigned the responsibilities as human resources manager with the retirement of Executive Assistant Kerry Bennett.

"She was the heart beat of the town," Wright said of Bennett.

Wise said late Wednesday via text that he had agreed with Burbela's resignation, which took effect as human resources director. The resignation was effective July 23 at 2 p.m., Putignano said.

Wright said she didn't know if Burbela took a cut in pay by resigning some of her job responsibilities, but that she remained as finance director.

Putignano said he hopes Burbela remains as finance manager despite the manager search disagreements.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.


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