By Lyle Moran firstname.lastname@example.org
LOWELL - City Manager Bernie Lynch and the City Council could not reach an agreement on Lynch remaining beyond his planned resignation date, so his last day as city manager will be March 10.
The council met in a closed-door session for 1 1/2 hours Tuesday night to try to iron out a deal for Lynch to stay on to help with the next budget. Councilors emerged with stern looks on their faces, but made no public comment about the session during the rest of the meeting.
Lynch told The Sun afterward there was no deal because he had asked for two-thirds of the council to vote in favor of him staying longer, which did not occur.
"The requirement I did ask for was that at least six members approve it and unfortunately, from what I understand, they were not able to get to the sixth vote," Lynch said. Asked why he sought six votes in support of a longer stay, Lynch said: "I think on something like this there should be a broad consensus that we are moving in the same direction."
Lynch said the terms under which he would have stayed were the same as called for by his current contract, including compensation, though he did ask for new notice provisions for the council asking him to leave and for him giving the council notice he was leaving.
"In response to their request, I proposed amending my Employment Agreement that had been terminated to an end date of 6/30, the adoption of the budget, or the start date of a new CM," Lynch said later in an email. "But I also indicated my willingness to meet with the new (city manager) before he/she started for a briefing on the budget and to be available to the new (city manager) for consultation after I left."
The manager was present for the first hour of the executive session and the very end.
The Sun learned the breakdown of the executive session vote was the same as the vote last week to ask Lynch to consider staying to assist with the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Voting in favor were Councilors Ed Kennedy, John Leahy, Bill Martin, James Milinazzo and William Samaras.
Voting in opposition were Mayor Rodney Elliott and Councilors Corey Belanger, Rita Mercier and Dan Rourke. Elliott and Belanger had opposed going into executive session to discuss the topic.
Leahy and Samaras said they were disappointed Lynch won't be staying to help with the budget.
"I would have liked him to see him work on the budget," Leahy said.
"The city manager said he is leaving, but he did offer a chance to stay on and help lay the groundwork for the new city manager to come in," Samaras said. "I was hoping to see that."
Kennedy said Lynch seeking a two-thirds thirds vote of the council may have been too high expectation. He also said the council now must move forward with finding a bridge during the time between Lynch's departure and the hiring of a new manager.
"We still need to come up with somebody who can put the city budget together," Kennedy said.
Milinazzo, who made the motion at last week's meeting to ask Lynch to consider staying, could not be reached for comment after the meeting. His motion came one week after Lynch announced at the council's first meeting of the year that he was departing.
Belanger said it is time for the council to "move on" and focus on priorities it needs to address.
"At this point it is getting a little messy," Belanger said. "We just have to move forward. We have public-safety and economic-development issues that need attention."
Mercier declined to comment.
Prior to going into executive session, Elliott said: "This manager has made his intentions clear and we need to move on."
Elliott said afterward the council will need to consider whether to streamline the search process for a new manager and also figure out if it will need to bring on an acting manager after Lynch's departure.
"If there is a need to, we have to put somebody in place until a new manager comes on board," said Elliott, who expected the topic to be discussed by the council next week.
The council voted during a special meeting earlier Tuesday night to start advertising later this week that it is seeking a new city manager. Applications will be due Feb. 28 at 4 p.m. The advertisement will note Lynch's current salary of approximately $180,000 and say the salary is negotiable.
The council will not see any of the applicants' names until the application window closes. The council will decide then how to move forward with the process.
Lynch told The Sun that while he is with the city he will keep the budget process moving forward. Department head budgets are due to him by Feb. 28. Lynch plans to then put a spreadsheet together he can pass off to the new manager.
"I'll be working on the budget the next six weeks and put the incoming manager in a good position," Lynch said. Lynch has not announced any future plans.
The council also voted Tuesday to start the search process for a new city auditor in light of Auditor Sheryl Wright's plans to retire Feb. 28.
The advertisement of the position will begin later this week and the deadline to apply for the position is Feb. 24. The advertisement of the position will note Wright's current budgeted salary of approximately $100,000 and say the salary is negotiable.
The council will determine how to proceed further after it receives all the applications for the position.
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