Despite good evaluation, board struggles with raise for Dracut manager


DRACUT — The Board of Selectmen gave Town Manager Jim Duggan high marks two weeks ago during his performance evaluation, but Tuesday night they struggled to come to consensus on how much to raise his salary.

Eventually, they settled on a 2.5 percent increase after an awkward moment when two motions for other amounts failed on 3-2 votes.

The raise, which is retroactive to July 1, brings his salary to $174,250 from $170,000.

In a terse comment immediately after the board meeting, Duggan said, “I appreciate the board’s investment in me.” He declined to elaborate.

Then, Wednesday morning, in an unsolicited email, Duggan said he is not worried about “lack of support” from some selectmen “because I’m always focused on enhancing municipal services and the schools to benefit our residents and businesses through improvements in Dracut’s governance and economic vitality of the town.”

As they did during their last meeting, selectmen praised Duggan’s attention to economic development, which has resulted in new projects, the extent of which Dracut hasn’t seen in years.

Selectman Tony Archinski opened the discussion by saying, “I want to be responsible to taxpayers while at the same time showing we are as committed to him as he is to us.”

Archinski said that he looked at goals set when Duggan was hired “leadership, communication skills, fostering growth while preserving land and open space and working with the schools.”

He added that Duggan “excelled at all.” Archinski then made a motion for a “modest” 3 percent pay raise.

Board Chairman Jesse Forcier said he would agree with a 3 percent, noting Duggan’s work on economic development and his “growth in other areas.”

Duggan received a 16 percent increase in 2017, which Forcier explained was during contract negotiations and intended to bring his salary in line with salaries paid to managers and administrators in other towns.

Selectman Alison Hughes, who gave Duggan the highest marks during his performance evaluation, agreed that the town has witnessed economic development and “a lot of other positive things going on in town.” Hughes gave Duggan a 4.58 score out of 5 maximum points.

Despite giving Duggan the highest mark, Hughes she said she would support a 2 percent pay raise. She said she made the motion out of a sense of fiscal responsibility and “fairness to the town.” In addition, she noted the substantial pay raise Duggan received previously.

While agreeing that Duggan “has done pretty well for the town,” Selectman Joe DiRocco said, “I haven’t agreed with everything he’s done.” DiRocco gave Duggan a 2.67 rating two weeks ago, the lowest of all board members

As he did two weeks ago, DiRocco spoke about personnel actions that resulted in litigation and “the amount spent on lawyers.”

Selectman Tami Dristiliaris said increasing the town manager’s pay is unsustainable.

“Where are we going with this?” she asked. “Are we going to get to $200,000?”

Dracut salaries should not be compared to salaries paid in other towns, she added.

A pay raise for Duggan would be unfair to other town employees who are being held to 2 percent pay hikes, she said.

When Forcier called for a vote on a 3 percent proposal, the vote was 3-2 against. He and Archinski voted ‘yes’, while DiRocco, Hughes and Dristiliaris voted ‘no.’

Hughes then made a motion for a 2 percent raise, the vote again was three to two against with Forcier, Archinski and Dristiliaris voting ‘no’.

The board’s meeting room went silent for a few moments as board members tried to decide what to do next.

“Does anyone have an idea on a motion?” Forcier asked, breaking the silence.

Archinkski then suggested, “How about we split the baby and do 2.5 percent?”

That motion carried on a 4-1 vote with only Dristiliaris in opposition.

In addition to the high and low ratings given two weeks ago by Hughes and DiRocco, the other ratings were: Dristiliaris, 3.0; Forcier , 4.0 and Archinski, 4.45.