Amherst town administrator back at work
By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
AMHERST — Six weeks after Town Administrator Jim O'Mara was placed on paid administrative leave, he quietly returned to his duties, with town officials saying his leave was related to the investigation into the purchase of a dump truck.
"The Board of Selectmen voted Monday to bring him back today," Selectmen Chairman Bruce Bowler said Thursday."I am glad that we have a town administrator back at town hall."
O'Mara earns nearly $94,000 a year. In addition, O'Mara, who previously served as superintendent of the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections until his retirement in August 2011, receives an annual pension from the New Hampshire Retirement System totaling $56,000.
Double-dipping is prohibited under state law, but O'Mara has said the town administrator post is not part of the New Hampshire Retirement System, but a different retirement plan. Other Amherst employees, such as teachers and emergency workers, do participate in the state retirement system.
Town officials placed O'Mara on leave Dec. 5, refusing to disclose the reasons.
In a statement released Thursday night, the Board of Selectmen said:"The Board regrets the perceived secrecy surrounding Mr. O'Mara's leave of absence but New Hampshire state law prohibits the Selectmen from publicly discussing personnel matters."
The statement said that, in early December, the board received"new information related to the outright purchase" of a dump truck. The statement did not elaborate on what the information was, but said an investigation by an outside firm was launched that took longer than anticipated, but was"thorough and impartial."
The statement said O'Mara was not the sole focus of the investigation, but the board"felt it appropriate to place him on leave to prevent any perception of any undue influence or partiality during the investigation."
The investigation revealed no evidence of malfeasance on the part of any town employee, the statement said. Procedural flaws and delayed internal communication protocols had already been discovered and corrected by the Board of Selectmen and O'Mara, according to the statement.
"I am content that this issue has been examined under a microscope. The board has acted in a responsible manner, and we can move forward with confidence, knowing that the measures put into place last October will prevent this from happening again," Bowler concluded.
Members of the Amherst Citizens Association say an explanation is owed to the taxpayers of Amherst.
"There is no question that management has been lacking in the town of Amherst for quite some time," Rick Crocker of the Amherst Citizens Association said earlier this week." ... The thing with Jim has opened up a can of worms."
The association has pressed for details on the purchase of the dump truck as well as $11.5 million in financial reconciliations made by the town's finance director.
Selectmen have denied a right-to-know request seeking more information.
O'Mara was in his office shortly before noon Thursday, but refused a request for an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader. He did not return a phone call or email seeking comment.
Before Thursday night's statement was released, Bowler had said he anticipated that more information would be released about O'Mara's leave Monday, when selectmen are expected to approve minutes from one or more non-public selectmen meetings during which the situation was discussed.
"Some minutes will be released," he said, adding they should be posted on the town's website in a timely manner.
"At this point, I would say that people are more curious than anything," state Rep. Peter Hansen, R-Amherst, said Thursday after learning of O'Mara's return."I see no reason for the whole story not to come out now that he is back."
While Hansen is pleased the town administrator has returned to his duties, Hansen said he hopes that whatever prompted the leave in the first place does not affect O'Mara's effectiveness as the head of the local municipality.
"It is too bad we can't address these things specifically," added Hansen.