Ex-official raps Hadley over vote on contract
HADLEY — The Select Board has granted Town Administrator David G. Nixon a three-year contract extension with annual pay raises, although questions have been raised by a former official about how it was negotiated in a closed-door meeting.
Former Select Board and Finance Committee member John M. Allen this week filed an Open Meeting Law complaint with the board, claiming its members failed to give proper notice to the public about Nixon’s contract renewal.
The Select Board discussed the town administrator’s job performance and evaluations at its Jan. 8 meeting, then negotiated a new contract with Nixon in a closed-door meeting. The board’s agenda posted notice of the evaluation, although Allen has taken exception to what he described as vague explanations for the purposes of its executive sessions.
The board’s stated purpose for the Jan. 8 executive session, when Nixon’s contract was settled, was “contract negotiations” and “Litigation: Mega v. Hadley.”
“At no time to my knowledge was there public notice that the renewal was being considered and no opportunity for public comment and no public indication of the motion or individual votes on the renewal,” Allen’s formal complaint states.
Under the state’s Open Meeting Law, the board has 14 days to respond to Allen with a written explanation on how it intends to resolve the matter. It must provide the state attorney general’s office with copies of those records.
According to his complaint, Allen is demanding the board acknowledge it made a mistake, “revoke the secret vote,” and discuss and vote again on Nixon’s contract in an open session.
“This is nonsense,” Allen said in a phone interview. “Total nonsense. They have to pony up, look at the cameras, cast a vote and enable the public to hold them accountable.”
Select Board Chairman Daniel Dudkiewicz said at the board’s Jan. 8 session that it was closing the meeting because discussing the contract negotiations in public would “have an adverse effect on the Town of Hadley,” according to the board’s minutes.
He said Thursday that the board planned to address Allen’s Open Meeting Law complaint at its meeting Wednesday.
“It sounds a little more complicated than it is,” Dudkiewicz said. “I certainly had no intention of doing something illegal. There was nothing underhanded.”
Nixon said Thursday that the board acted as it has in the past when negotiating his contracts. He has been town administrator for nine years and this is his fourth three-year contract. Under the new pact reached Jan. 8, Nixon will receive a base salary of $86,637, beginning July 1. His pay will increase to $90,137 on July 1, 2016, which begins the last year of his contract.
“This is the process by which we’ve done my other contracts so I don’t see any other issues,” Nixon said. “There was notice given.”
Asked whether the Select Board could have been more specific in stating the nature of the contract negotiations on Jan. 8, Nixon said, “I’ll let the Select Board respond to that.”
Among the other demands in Allen’s complaint is that the board release all its executive session minutes that no longer need to be kept private. The state’s revised Open Meeting Law, which took effect in 2010, states that a public body shall “at reasonable intervals” review the minutes of executive sessions to determine if they continue to warrant non-disclosure. Those determinations must be announced at board meetings and be included in the minutes of that meeting.
A Gazette review shows Hadley’s Select Board held 33 meetings last year, of which 22 — or two-thirds — included executive sessions. The board’s records show it has not regularly reviewed whether its executive session minutes warrant release.
“If everything is secret all the time, they can do whatever the hell they want,” Allen said.
Nixon said that may soon change because he has asked that the matter be put on the board’s agenda this month. “I’ve asked that we catch up on executive sessions and I was hoping we would have done that by now,” he said.
Evaluations of Nixon
Prior to the Jan. 8 executive session, Dudkiewicz summarized the results and scores of formal written evaluations of Nixon from four of the five Select Board members. Dudkiewicz did not identify who gave which marks and comments, instead referring to board members anonymously as “Reviewer No. 1,” for example. The overall reviews ranged from one who gave a rating of “needs improvement/meets expectations” to another rating of “outstanding.”
One Select Board member identified as “Reviewer No. 4” did not submit a formal evaluation, but through Dudkiewicz’s summation of the reviews, asked for a number of matters to be addressed publicly, including an accounting of Nixon’s time on the job and his telephone records. That reviewer asked for the Select Board to publicly address an eight-page letter it received from former board member David Moskin that is highly critical of the town government’s operations under Nixon and the board.
The Gazette has learned that “Reviewer No. 4” is Select Board member John Waskiewicz, who could not be reached for comment Thursday. The Gazette in January also requested copies of the Select Board’s evaluations, which the town denied citing the privacy exemption in the state’s Public Records Law.
Asked why the evaluations remained anonymous in public session, Dudkiewicz said, “That’s just how I chose to do it. I did articulate their (board members’) concerns.”
Select Board member Brian West said Nixon’s contract renewal was approved by the board in executive session, although he did reveal the specific vote. “There was nobody who voted against it, let’s put it that way,” he said.
He said if the public has concerns about how specific Select Board members evaluated Nixon’s job performance, they should contact them.
“They should call that person up and ask them,” said West, who gave Nixon high marks.
“I support David,” West said. “I was on the board when he was hired, and I think he’s doing a very good job for the town of Hadley, and he has in the past and I think he will in the future.”
Nixon said he was pleased that the board has granted him another three years to lead the town. “I’m looking forward to the next three years,” he said. “We have a lot of projects that need to get done, and I’m looking forward to helping the town out.”
Dan Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.