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December 14. 2012 1:22AM

Hooksett Town Council members debate reorganization


From left, Hooksett Town Councilors Todd Lizotte, James Levesque, Vincent Lembo, and Town Administrator Dean Shankle. (BRENDAN CLOGSTON/Union Leader Correspondent)

HOOKSETT - Some Hooksett Town Council members have doubts about the town administrator's government reorganization, putting a position the administrator has pushed for as key on hold after a tense discussion Wednesday night.

At issue was a proposed layoff of the town's administrative assistant, Evelyn Horn, with some councilors arguing that the reorganization produced an "unhealthy culture" where employees were "walking on eggshells" for fear of being reorganized out of their jobs.

On Oct. 10, the Town Council voted 4-3 to approve the position of project coordinator, which was proposed by Town Administrator Dean Shankle as a centerpiece in his reorganization plan, designed to assist him in the planning and implementation of his work.

During that meeting, Shankle stated that he intended to pay for the new position by "laying off the administrative assistant." Since that time, Shankle has offered a candidate the project coordinator position, and on Dec. 12, he asked the council to approve the layoff as "the second step of your initial vote." "I understand that change is always hard, but we need to keep the vision before us of the things that we've talked about doing and what we want to do," he said.

However, when the matter came to discussion, Councilor Vincent Lembo made a motion to reject the plan, which also included laying off the human resources director and the creation of an administrative services coordinator.

Lembo said the layoff "not only violates the Personnel Plan, but also shows, in my opinion, that the town administrator is very vindictive toward Evelyn because she spoke up after he stated during the council meeting that he was going to lay her off to fund a new position. That is not the sign of good leadership."

According to the Personnel Plan, in the event of reorganization, "employees are to be trained on new responsibilities and new position requirements." In Lembo's view, this means Horn should have been offered the job before any other candidate. According to Shankle, the job was posted internally initially, but no internal candidates came forward until after he began interviewing for the position.

Lembo said that the "inappropriate" public discussion surrounding Horn's proposed layoff may have led her to believe that she could not or would not be considered. He also claimed that Shankle had told him personally that the position had been written for Horn, and believed the administrator was now "penalizing" her for "speaking up."

When Lembo repeated this charge, Shankle responded: "you've said that twice and it's not true," later noting that the position's qualifications did not match Horn's.

Councilor Leslie Boswak said that while she believed Shankle has the "best intentions," there was a lack of communication and mentoring in the administration, producing a culture where instead of being provided with direction and goals, employees were "terrorized" into "following the rules." "I think that what is before us is probably more of a philosophical issue," said Boswak. "Are we going to look toward improving the culture of this town, and applying standards fairly, or are we just going to abandon our current employees, (reorganize) them out of their jobs for people with better qualifications?

"I'm just disgusted with the whole thing quite honestly."

Other councilors were uncomfortable with the body getting involved in an administrative decision.

"We've given him the authority to do his job," said Councilor Nancy Comai. "I really think we're just second guessing this way out of proportion. It's not brain surgery. I support Dr. Shankle's reorganization."

A half hour into the discussion, Boswak motioned to enter a non-public session where she intended to speak "frankly" on "things that were repeated to her."

The session lasted a little over an hour.When the council returned to public session, they discussed voting to retract the job offer Shankle made. Ultimately, they voted on a motion made by Lembo to table the discussion until their next regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 9. As a result of this, the layoff will be put on hold until that time. Lembo presented an additional motion to put the hiring on hold until the council could consider their responsibilities under the personnel policy. That motion passed 6-2.

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Brendan Clogston may be reached at bclogston@newstote.com.


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