DRACUT — More than six months after she was appointed interim town manager, Ann Vandal can now remove that pesky word ‘interim’ from her title.
In a virtual meeting Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to approve a two-year contract for Vandal in the full executive role, contingent upon a few minor alterations to the terms as discussed that evening.
Selectman Tami Dristiliaris voted against the motion, stating that she wanted to see the changes in writing before approving the contract.
The selectmen will likely sign the contract sometime this week, according to Town Clerk Kathleen Graham. According to Vandal, it sets her salary at $175,000, the same rate she was paid under her contract as interim manager.
Vandal’s appointment comes after the board recently decided to abandon its months-long search for a new town manager. That search process, which was overseen by the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management, produced four finalists who were set to be interviewed in March. But in light of the coronavirus pandemic, those interviews were canceled and never rescheduled.
The board’s decision to hire Vandal, who has served as interim town manager twice in the town’s recent history, has been controversial locally due to the fact that she was not selected as a finalist during the search process. The selectmen were split 3-2, with Chairman Jesse Forcier and Selectmen Alison Hughes and Joseph DiRocco Jr. arguing that Vandal could provide continuity and stability at Town Hall during uncertain times.
Dristiliaris and Vice Chairman Tony Archinski, who voted against appointing Vandal, advocated for the board to continue with the agreed-upon process and conduct interviews with the town manager finalists via Zoom.
After Dristiliaris raised a question Tuesday about a provision in the town’s charter stipulating that the town manager’s contract should be made “excluding tenure,” Town Counsel James A. Hall said that though the contract does set a two-year term, Vandal could still be removed from her position without cause at any point with a majority vote by the selectmen.
“This is a benefit contract and it’s not a term of 24 months even though it appears to be, because it could be terminated by the town at any time,” he said.
Dristiliaris also raised a question about the evaluation process laid out in the contract. She noted that if the evaluation is completed in October as the document specifies, new board members who will be elected in June will have only a few months to work with Vandal before evaluating her.
“I think we should wait a little bit so that we have some time to, so the new board — because it will be a new board — have time to say some positive things and have observed,” she said.
The other selectmen agreed. Forcier noted that the board has not always adhered to the October time frame, and said that whoever is serving as chairperson following the upcoming election will have the option to move the evaluation date.
Archinski also asked that one section of the contract about professional development be made more specific to refer explicitly to the program offered at Suffolk University to which it pertains.
Hall said that the changes would be made and that the selectmen could review them before signing the document.
Other actions the board took Tuesday include:
- Accepted a special permit request submission from Lazy River Products LLC, a marijuana retailer planning to open on Broadway Road. The company is seeking to amend a special permit and license that has already been granted.
- Voted to continue a public hearing on a request from Farmer Dave’s to erect trailblazing signs to a later date
- Voted to change polling locations for the town’s June 29 local election, consolidating precincts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 into Englesby Elementary School, in order to comply with social distancing guidelines
- Voted to cancel the town’s 4th of July fireworks in light of the coronavirus pandemic
- Reappointed Charles Kanavos as an alternate member of the Planning Board
- Appointed Doug Dooley to the Affordable Housing Partnership Committee