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December 13. 2012 10:08PM

Amherst residents question suspension of town administrator

AMHERST - Local residents want an explanation as to why Town Administrator Jim O'Mara has been placed on administrative leave, but have faith local officials will handle the situation appropriately.

Citing it as a personnel issue, selectmen are refusing to comment on O'Mara's absence from town hall.

"There are certainly people who want to know more, obviously," said State Rep. Peter Hansen of Amherst. "I am curious."

Hansen described O'Mara as a wonderful person, saying he is looking forward to O'Mara achieving great things for the small town of Amherst.

"I respect the Board of Selectmen's right to protect personnel issues," said Hansen, adding he is still "dismayed" by the predicament.

Bruce Bowler, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said this week that private employee matters are protected under the state's Right-To-Know law, refusing to elaborate on any details of O'Mara's temporary departure.

The Union Leader filed a Right-To-Know request with the town on Thursday seeking more information about the matter, specifically seeking details on whether O'Mara has been placed on paid or unpaid administrative leave.

Police Chief Mark Reams refuted a rumor that O'Mara was escorted out of the town hall last week by a uniformed police officer.

"He wasn't escorted out of the building," Reams said on Thursday, refusing to say whether an officer was present Dec. 5 when the Board of Selectmen placed O'Mara on administrative leave.

When asked whether police are involved in any internal investigation being conducted by selectmen, Reams said he could not comment.

He also refused to comment on whether local authorities are looking into any potential criminal activity on the part of O'Mara.

O'Mara, the former superintendent of the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections, took over as town administrator in October 2011 at an annual salary of about $92,000.

He previously served on the local school board for about six years, and also served on the Board of Selectmen as its chairman.

"People are curious, and they want to know more - maybe more than they should," said State Rep. Robert Rowe. "In my view, we have elected five selectmen who will be sure to manage the situation honestly and fairly, and we will find out more when it is appropriate."

Bowler would not elaborate on when O'Mara might return to his daily duties at town hall, but reassured the public that everything is running smoothly there.

Calls to the four remaining selectmen went unreturned on Thursday.

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Kimberly Houghton may be reached at khoughton@newstote.com.


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