Petition shows support for Dracut interim town manager

State Rep. Colleen Garry speaks in support of Interim Town Manager Ann Vandal at the Dracut Board of Selectmen’s meeting Tuesday. (SUN/Meg McIntyre)
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DRACUT — Residents, town employees and local officials have thrown their support behind Interim Town Manager Ann Vandal after she was not selected to move forward to the final stage of consideration for the town manager’s job.

An appointed five-member committee was tasked with interviewing candidates in the search for a new town manager, which is being overseen by the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management. But The Sun learned last week that Vandal isn’t among the committee’s list of finalists who will now be interviewed by the Board of Selectmen.

Board members recently received a petition calling for Vandal to be considered further, which was signed by a long list of town employees and department heads, according to Selectmen Chairman Jesse Forcier. Among them are Town Clerk Kathy Graham, Police Chief Peter Bartlett and Fire Chief David Brouillette. A picture of the petition posted to social media shows that more than 20 town employees signed the document.

“While we respect the work of the Screening Committee, who freely volunteered their time for the task, we feel that a respected and responsible staff member who has already demonstrated her ability to do the job, should not have been overlooked,” the petition reads. “As Interim Town Manager Ann has provided a much needed sense of stability and fiscal prudence and it seems wrong that you, the Board, would be denied the opportunity to consider her application.”

Vandal was appointed interim town manager in October following former Town Manager Jim Duggan’s abrupt resignation. She previously served as the assistant town manager and chief financial officer, and also served as interim town manager during the town’s last search for a new top executive in 2013, after former Town Manager Dennis Piendak left the position.

A few people spoke about Vandal at the Board of Selectmen’s most recent meeting Tuesday, which drew roughly 40 people to the town hall, many of them town employees. Among the crowd was state Rep. Colleen Garry, who attended the session with Sen. Barry Finegold to speak to the selectmen about a bill that would require residents to be notified of sewage overflows in public waterways.

But first, she brought up the town manager search.

“I would just like to echo my support of Ann Vandal. … To see the number of employees here to support her shows that she can get the job done. We know she knows the finance, we know she learned under Dennis Piendak how to be tight with the penny, but we also know from Jim Duggan that she learned how to bring money into the community,” Garry said. “So I think we’ve got the best of both worlds.”

Finegold did not comment on the town manager issue.

Garry’s comments, along with others made during the community input portion of the meeting, were met with applause from attendees.

Aside from comments by members of the public, there was little discussion about Vandal’s situation Tuesday. Selectman Joseph DiRocco Jr. briefly criticized a Facebook post uploaded to the page of local Dracut Access Television talk show “The Dracut Connection” regarding the employee petition.

“ARE THE INMATES RUNNING THE ASYLUM? … In what world do the EMPLOYEES of a town make the choice of who will be their BOSS? I’m betting Selectman Joe DiRocco is behind this,” a portion of the post reads. “This SMACKS of cronyism and political BULLYING!”

DiRocco objected to the post’s characterization of town employees.

“I’m not gonna go into it because most of it’s all lies anyway, but I would like to just point out that all the ‘inmates of the asylum’ that they call it are probably here tonight. It was a bad shot to show people that work for the community they’re not appreciated,” DiRocco said. “I mean, it’s (the petition) a tribute to you, Ann.”

Vandal then thanked DiRocco in the first public comment she’s made about the search since news broke that she was not selected to move on.

“I appreciate it, I really do. It’s a little disappointing, but it is what it is,” Vandal said. “And you know what, I’ve got the support of everybody, and that’s good enough for me at this point.”

Forcier said Tuesday that he expects the list of finalists selected by the screening committee to be ready for release by Friday, and noted that a special meeting could be called next week to announce them.