New Conway town administrator resigns
CONWAY — Things are shaking at town hall.
One top municipal leader is leaving office, another is being asked to.
The new town administrator, Ed MacDonald, resigned Monday night with less than two months on the job. At the same time, a petition is circulating calling for the resignation of the town’s newest selectman, Rick Bean.
Although reasons for MacDonald’s leaving are unknown, he and Bean have been associated with controversy over the selectmen’s development idea for the former Rose property that caused a row with dozens of other town officials and residents recently.
On Monday, MacDonald’s announcement took the Board of Selectmen off guard.
“It was unexpected,” selectmen’s Chairman John O’Rourke said Tuesday morning.
MacDonald handed in his letter of resignation at the end of a three-hour meeting. He declined to comment to the press Tuesday, and when asked for a copy of his resignation letter, told The Recorder to seek it through a state public records appeal, which involves filing a formal written request and waiting 10 days for an answer.
O’Rourke said MacDonald did not want to review his reasons for leaving.
MacDonald’s resignation is effective Feb. 7. In the meantime, the selectmen will begin another search for an administrator.
The selectmen hired MacDonald on Oct. 24 to become the town’s first full-time town administrator with an annual salary of $52,000 approved at town meeting. Previously, MacDonald worked as the town administrator in Chester. Just before he began his job in late November, MacDonald laid off the former town administrative aide, Tom Spiro, saying that their responsibilities overlapped.
MacDonald resigned one week before he was scheduled to formally meet the leaders of the town’s committees on Monday. The Jan. 14 meeting will now be a regular board meeting, in which the selectmen plan to discuss potential alternative uses for the former Rose property off Shelburne Falls Road. The use of the property has triggered some controversy recently as different boards and committees have been considering uses for the 11 acres different than the selectmen.
The selectmen, with MacDonald’s help, were quietly developing a plan to move the town offices, and highway, police and fire departments to the site. When other town boards with a stake in planning and use of the riverfront property got wind of the effort, MacDonald got swept up in the controversy as he had recommended an architect and engineering consultant to develop a feasibility study of the selectmen’s plan and had toured the site with the consultants and selectmen just days after he was hired but before he formally got on the job.
“At this point, I haven’t spoken with the other heads of committees. It won’t include Ed,” O’Rourke said. “Part of that meeting was for Ed to be introduced to the committee heads and to discuss potential alternatives for the Rose property.
“Hopefully we’ll have a period where it won’t have much effect on what’s happening,” O’Rourke said. “We’re going to do the best we can do until we find someone else.”
Meanwhile, some townspeople are calling for the newest selectman, Rick Bean, to step down.
The petition calling for Bean’s resignation has been at Baker’s Country Store since Thursday. Thirty-two names have signed it as of Tuesday afternoon. Baker’s owner Helen Baker said she doesn’t know who originated the petition. A copy was also placed at Sunset Trail Package Store, but owner Ray Langevin said he removed it because “No one claims to be the person to write it up.”
Bean did not return calls for comment Tuesday. He was elected last May.
The petition states “As tax-paying citizens and residents of the Town of Conway, MA, we no longer have confidence in the intention, willingness and ability of Selectboard member Richard Bean to serve the Town in a lawful, transparent and participatory manner, and as such, formally request the immediate resignation of Selectboard member Bean, to be replaced by another Conway resident with a special election to serve out the remainder of said Selectboard term.”
The five complaints listed in the petition include: a lack of communication and transparency regarding town business, disposal of town property deemed permanent record, gifting items declared surplus, which should have been sold to benefit the town, conflict of interest in being paid as both Selectboard member and Emergency Management Director, and a lack of leadership and creating a hostile work environment for staff.
The final use of the Rose property has been debated and researched for years with different boards proposing to use it as a site for elderly affordable housing, ball fields, or a town highway garage.
Town residents and officials crammed into the Town Office on Dec. 10 to prevent the selectmen from signing a proposed $7,750 contract with Westfield engineers, R. Levesque Associates. The selectmen, however, denied plans to sign a contract or move forward with the project without town input.