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Peterborough’s new town employees start work, town explains potential conflicts of interest

  • Karen Hatcher Courtesy photo

  • The Peterborough Town House Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/1/2020 4:34:14 PM

The first time the public learned that Peterborough town officials had developed a part-time Community and Economic Development Coordinator position was when the town announced they had hired Select Board member Karen Hatcher for the job in April. Deputy Town Administrator Nicole MacStay broke down how the new CEDC and Town Planner positions came out of the former director and assistant planner positions in the Office of Community Development, and answered questions about potential conflicts of interest, as the decision to hire an elected official led some Peterborough residents to question the ethics of the hiring process.

Hatcher and Town Planner Danica Melone were both hired in April. Their duties encompass what was previously achieved by two former full-time Director and Assistant Planner positions in the Office of Community Development, vacated by Peter Throop and Kristen Bixby, MacStay said.

Hatcher said she “hit the ground running” at the start of May and is embracing the immediate need for her new role. “8 a.m. Monday morning I was on a call and working out our process for the restaurants,” she said of her first day on the job immediately following the governor’s Stay-At-Home 2.0 guidance. She initially applied for Throop’s position in January. Hatcher previously served as Executive Director of the Cornucopia Project. She’d been planning to transition away from the position after she achieved what she’d set out to do with the nonprofit, she said, and phased out of her former role completely on May 22.

Hatcher will continue to serve as a Select Board member. “I did not want to give up my seat,” she said. Under RSA 669:7, a Select Board member may serve as a town employee in a part-time position, under 30 hours a week. “The CEDC position is not full-time, does not handle funds either incoming or outgoing, and does not participate in elections in any way,” MacStay said. “We did not see that there was any conflict.” Hatcher will average 28 hours a week in her position, MacStay said.

Although the appointment may meet the letter of the law, resident Loretta Laurenitis said she doesn’t believe it meets the intent. She pointed out the appointment’s conflict with the Peterborough Town Code of Ethics, which states “Public servants are expected to avoid placing themselves in positions involving a conflict of interest and also to avoid any situations in which a conflict of interest may appear to exist.”

“We know that people will have concerns about this, of course,” Hatcher said of potential conflicts of interest between her two positions, and she’s aware that there will likely be situations where she should recuse herself. Hatcher said she had the best interest of the town at heart when she took the job, and is trying to be 100 percent transparent in the process of filling two different roles in town going forward.

The Town Administrator is generally the only person involved when making changes to town positions, MacStay said, but she could not comment on the Select Board’s involvement in this particular situation, including what decisions Hatcher was recused from. No single Select Board member has any authority over town staff, MacStay said, and as a board the only employee they directly oversee is Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett. The town’s employee manual gives the Town Administrator oversight on hiring, termination, and promotion, she said. Melone, in the Planning Department and Hatcher, in the administration department, report directly to MacStay.

“Any time we hire for a position, we make a point to set aside what we know.. about the employee,” MacStay said, regardless of whether it’s a resident already in an elected position, like Hatcher, or an out-of-stater. Preference is given to an in-town candidate only when there are two equally talented, equally qualified candidates, she said.

Both former Office of Community Development positions were included in the proposed 2021 budget, MacStay said. The Town Planner position is full time, with an annual salary range of $53,900 to $81,649. The CEDC position is part-time without benefits, with an hourly pay rate of $20.91 to $39.25 an hour. MacStay declined to share the specific salaries of the new employees. The CEDC position was only advertised among initial applicants for the Director position. The town publicly posted the vacancy for the Director position in January, MacStay said. At the end of February, MacStay and Rodney Bartlett decided to reorganize the position after observing that many of the small pool of applicants had backgrounds suiting either a Town Planner or CEDC position, but not both, she said. They invited all applicants to reapply for the new, retooled positions. The town publicly posted the Town Planner position in March, and intended to publicly post the CEDC position later in the summer – before the pandemic hit. Suddenly, the town needed a person in that position immediately, MacStay said. She acknowledged the town could have attracted a greater pool of applicants by publicly advertising the position. “If we felt like we had the time, we could have,” MacStay said. “We were in a really difficult spot… in the middle of a crisis.” Business owners in town are still reeling due to the COVID-19 related shutdowns, she said, and it’s been critical to have someone in house for the last couple of weeks to help meet their needs.


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