Rindge Select Board clashes on vote over town administrator’s contract not being renewed

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/15/2019 9:18:26 PM

Rindge Selectmen clashed at Wednesday night’s Select Board meeting over the July 3 vote to not to renew the town administrator’s contract.

On July 3, Selectmen entered into a nonpublic session and in a two to one vote decided to not renew Town Administrator Joe Byk’s three-year contract, a month before it is up.

Residents used the citizen’s forum portion of Wednesday’s meeting to express their thanks to Byk and confusion over his contract not being renewed. Residents even requested the board retake the vote and a motion was made to renew Byk’s contract.

Rindge Select Board Chairman Robert Hamilton was the sole dissenting vote.

“It was my strong preference to renew Joe’s contract,” Hamilton said at the opening at Wednesday’s Select Board meeting. “Joe, despite being harangued, harassed, humiliated, berated, belittled and badgered, you have shown commitment, integrity, fortitude and extreme patience while continuing to do your duty. Apparently, my thoughts were not shared so this is my personal thanks to you and my best wishes for a more serene future.”

Byk thanked Hamilton for his support and thanked residents.

“It has been a pleasure meeting folks and working with you,” Byk said.

Selectwoman Roberta Oeser began speaking, prompting Hamilton to ask her if she had a statement.

“I’m entitled to respond to your accusation, Bob,” Oeser said in reference to Hamilton’s comments about the impromptu nature of the nonpublic meeting Oeser had called for at the end of the July 3 meeting to an unaware Hamilton.

“You were derelict in your duty in not calling a meeting for that purpose at least a month ago,” she said. “Because it takes time to find replacements. … You should have been in preparation of a contract coming up.”

“We had a meeting that I didn’t prepare for and was unable to prepare for,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton then opened the meeting to the public for Citizen’s Forum.

Hamilton’s wife, Roni Hamilton, spoke first reading from an open letter to Byk.

“First and foremost you are the most honest and truthful town administrator the town has ever had,” she said. “It will be extremely depressing to me and quite possibly cause others leaving the town hall, but it will be quite understandable.”

She said added that if she ever finds out that Oeser and Selectman Karl Pruter spoke outside of a meeting about not renewing Byk’s contract she plans to report it to the state.

Many other residents spoke in favor of Byk and said they were upset his contract was not renewed as well as about his treatment by the board.

“I’m very surprised at this decision and I guess I’m not quite sure how quite to approach it,” former Budget Advisory Committee member Tom Coneys said. “I think it’s a disappointment to the town that we lost a pretty good individual after many, many years of chaos out of this office. … I don’t understand your rationale.”

Hamilton said he would not discuss personnel matters, but said based on the information of the nonpublic session he would renew Byk’s contract.

“I think at least two of the selectman made a very poor decision,” Coneys said. “It indicates to me that there is collusion, and I mean it sincerely. … I don’t see any disciplinary action against this man. I don’t see a whole lot of anything but success and bringing together a really solid team of Rindge employees.”

Coneys said he is considering going to court to find out what happened.

Many members of the search committee that resulted in the town hiring Byk expressed their dismay.

“I was on the committee it was a long process and we took all the information and we sent that to the Selectmen to make their decision on who our town administrator would be,” Kelen Geiger said. “He was decent and kind and one of the most honest people I have ever meet. I think I’m going to miss him like crazy because of the kindness.”

Jim Qualey said Byk has been a huge asset to the town.

“The board has made a huge mistake,” Qualey said. “shameful and disgraceful. … You’ve done nothing good for the town. You’ve damaged the town.”

Deb Sawyer asked if these comments would sway the board.

“We’re crying here because of this man. He’s finally come to town and done a wonderful job and he wants to stay. The end,” Sawyer said.

At the urging of residents, the board retook the vote with the same results. Hamilton voted to renew the contract with Oeser and Pruter voting no to renew the contract.

Selectmen did agree on one thing, that there is not enough time to form a search committee. Selectmen said they would place an ad for a new town administrator and hire for the position themselves.

Byk was hired as town administrator three years ago after the town used a search committee process to replace Town Administrator Jane Pitt, who retired before her contract was up.

Pitt told the Ledger-Transcript in 2016, she tendered her resignation after being “stunned” by the Feb. 24, 2016, Select Board meeting. According to the approved minutes from the meeting, a discussion had occurred about town committees, in which some residents were concerned that a nonpublic committee had formed to plan and construct a new municipal services facility for police, fire and public works. According to some in attendance, the meeting became heated, with allegations of dishonesty directed at the “corner office,” which included Pitt.

Pitt took over the role Dec. 2, 2013, after the previous town administrator, Carlotta Pini resigned. Pini resigned in lieu of being fired, according to a severance and general release agreement signed Oct. 18, 2013.

Editor’s note: This story was corrected on July 19, 2019, to say Tom Coneys is a former Budget Advisory Committee and that Byk became town administrator after Jane Pitt resigned and that Pitt replaced Carlotta Pini.


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