Town Manager debate ill-conceived and troubling

Sun, 08/04/2013 - 2:05pm

Monday night’s meeting on Town Manager Nancy Dodge’s contract was not a high point in town governance — and there is no clear resolution in sight.

First, councilor Sean McGarry — who was so critical of Dodge’s performance that he rated her no higher than one in any of the eight categories her performance was judged by — apparently didn’t think it important enough to check in advance whether he could even vote on the issue because of a perceived conflict. He did recuse from ranking her as public works director.

You would think that an elected official who believes that the town manager’s job skills are so dire would have made sure that he could actually participate in a vote that he has helped spearhead. But he didn’t.

The council has the responsibility to hire and fire the town manager. Such decisions should be based on clear criteria and objective judgements. McGarry rated Dodge so dismally that he did not in the least appear objective.

Despite the fact that McGarry said he needed to clarify his standing on this matter, there was still an opportunity for a vote that could have put this mess to bed. While Councilor Chris Warfel clearly has no confidence in Dodge, the remaining three — First Warden Gaffett, Norris Pike and Ken Lacoste — rated Dodge seemingly high enough to vote for her to continue in her job.

Lacoste rated Dodge primarily solid 3’s (or a C average). He may not be thrilled with Dodge, but was obviously not urgently concerned. Pike couldn’t have rated Dodge any higher, and Gaffett was overall favorable. By the very standards the council members set for themselves, an informed vote could have happened with or without McGarry.

Third, it seems as though Warfel and McGarry have headed into this debate with no clear plan on how to proceed if their views prevailed. This is a cardinal rule in business and it should be for elected officials. What’s your follow-up plan? Who steps in? More to the point: who would want to step in? With a council so divided, a new town manager would be entering into a very precarious political landscape. For that matter, why would Dodge want to continue in this environment?

Of course Dodge has her detractors. Who in her position would not after 13 years of service? But there seems no corroborating evidence that Dodge is so derelict in her duties that she needs to be replaced. If she is deficient to the point of a need for dismissal one would think that serious concerns would have come to a head long before this.

This process has been chaotic and ill-conceived. Dodge, however, showed personal resolve in asking for an open session.

We urge McGarry to clear up whether he has a conflict, and then we strongly recommend that the council quickly schedule an up or down vote on the Town Manager.

Dodge, and the town, deserve nothing less.