DRACUT — The Board of Selectmen last week voted unanimously to not recommend two Town Meeting warrant articles aimed at setting salary caps on both the town manager and superintendent of schools positions.
Articles 28 and 29, both brought forward by voter petitions, look to see if Town Meeting will vote to set a cap on the current salaries of the town manager and school superintendent for the next five fiscal years, according to the final warrant that’s now available on the town website. This goes beyond the authority of Town Meeting, cautioned Town Counsel James Hall at last Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting.
Former Dracut Selectman Cathy Richardson presented Articles 28 and 29 during an overall review of the Town Meeting warrant. She emphasized to Town Manager Jim Duggan that this isn’t personal and has nothing to do with him or Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone. Richardson said she would like to see the town take time to look at its capital plan. Dracut is not a rich town, she added.
“We tend to, as a town I think, do a lot with the top positions and then — when things get tight — we worry about the little guys,” Richardson said at the meeting. “They’re not really little. They’re out there doing God’s work out there. The police and the fire and the DPW.”
Selectman Chairman Jesse Forcier on Monday pushed back against Richardson’s statement, saying the Board of Selectmen is considerate of every town employee.
“We certainly don’t consider them or treat them like ‘little guys.’ It’s the complete opposite,” he said. “I think the Board of Selectmen really respects every town employee across the board.” According to Assistant Town Manager/Finance Director Ann Vandal, Duggan’s base salary is $174,250 and Stone’s base salary is $173,123.
“Mr. Duggan certainly works very hard, but he makes $170,000, which for most people is comfortable. So does Mr. Stone,” Richardson said last week. “And the fact is that, in addition to salaries, there’s cars and there’s gas and there’s other things that go along with that salary. So the salary in and of itself is not the entire package.”
Forcier on Monday said he thinks the salaries of both the town manager and school superintendent are at a very comparable rates to surrounding towns.
“With the advice from Town Counsel, clearly both motions are beyond the authority of Town Meeting,” Forcier said. “It’s written right in the charter that it’s the Board of Selectmen’s responsibility to hire and determine the salary for the town manager, and the same applies to the School Committee in respect to the superintendent.”
School Committee member Joe Wilkie said the committee sets the school superintendent’s salary.
“I trust in the selectmen and school boards to appropriately recruit, screen and hire our respective leaders in the town manager and superintendent,” Wilkie said.
Richardson on Monday said in general there’s been what she called an “unsustainable process” by which raises are continually given to the town’s top positions.
“I think it opens a discussion,” she said. “It may be beyond the scope of the Town Meeting, but it’s worth looking at this process.
Selectman Tony Archinski on Monday said he felt Article 28 is an attempt to micromanage the duties and authority of the Board of Selectmen.
“It’s almost like them saying ‘We don’t trust you to do the job,'” Archinski said. “If you think about how we set the town manager’s salary, we do a lot of research. We look at empirical data. The Town Meeting doesn’t do that.”
Forcier said if the articles pass at Town Meeting, they will most certainly be kicked back by the Attorney General.
Town Meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. on June 3, in the Richardson Center for the Performing Arts.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.