HOOKSETT — While it’s been over week since former acting town administrator Don Winterton tendered his resignation as Hooksett’s top official, his name dominated Wednesday’s Town Council meeting as councilors debated whether to reconsider their vote to overturn the controversial hiring position that led him to resign.
Winterton, who was also the town councilor for District 5, resigned on April 3 amid criticism by some about his decision to hire the part-time, seasonal Parks and Recreation coordinator a week prior to 2019 Town Meeting Day, when the question of whether to create a full-time Parks and Recreation Director was put before voters and rejected for the third time in three years.
On March 27, Councilors John Durand, David Ross and Alex Walczyk voted to overturn the acting administrator’s hiring decision, prompting Winterton to resign amid what he referred to as “a toxic environment”.
“In my nearly six years on the Council, I never took part in a vote to override an action of the town administrator,” wrote Winterton in his resignation.
On Wednesday night, Hooksett Police Chief Janet Bouchard, the town’s new acting administrator, read a letter from the town’s attorney stating the legal opinion that the hiring of a part-time employee during the current fiscal year did not violate the town’s 2019 warrant.
That reading was followed up by one from Donna Fitzpatrick, the town’s administrative services coordinator, who read a letter in her capacity as a citizen on behalf of 15 town employees who expressed their support for Winterton.
Citing Winterton’s work on various projects, including bringing the Granite YMCA in to run the town’s defunct summer camp program, the the employees thanked Winterton for his “time, talent and devotion” to Hooksett.
“Your words ‘I have your back’, or a simple ‘good morning’ boosted employee morale in a positive direction,” wrote the employees. “Don, on behalf of the following employees, we thank you and wish you the best.”
Later in the meeting, Councilor James Levesque made a motion for the council to reconsider their March 27 vote to override Winterton, which Walczyk seconded.
“I’m reconsidering it tonight, and I understand that there’s more than meets the eye as opposed to seeing it as a Recreational Director or a way to get around the vote,” said Walczyk. “I don’t think that’s the whole truth — I think it’s part of the story, but I don’t think it’s all of the story.”
Councilor Timothy Tsantoulis took the opportunity to criticize the opposition to Winterton’s decision as an instance of “the tail wagging the dog” by a very small group of “malcontents who made a lot of noise.”
Tsantoulis went on to hold up a sign he made with a large zero drawn on it, a placard which he says signified the number of people who told him they were angry about what Winterton had done while in office.
“I actually raised the question among individuals that I reside near, and they all thought it was quite foolish that we that we were wasting our time dealing with it … whoever holds that seat right there does not need to be micromanaged by a small group of individuals who can’t have their way,” said Tsantoulis of the town administrator’s position.
The reconsideration vote was rejected 7-1.
Winterton had no comment on the meeting’s events.