, Derry, New Hampshire

August 23, 2012

Editorial: Hart’s changes exceed acting manager’s mandate

Derry News

---- — Acting Town Manager Bill Hart is doing a fine and competent job filling in while Londonderry conducts its search for a permanent town manager.

That said, we wonder if Hart is doing too much, making decisions that might best be left to a new, permanent executive.

Hart, Londonderry’s police chief, stepped up into the acting town manager role to fill in for former Town Manager David Caron, who had been on personal leave since June 18 because of a family medical issue. Caron, town manager since 2003, resigned on July 20.

While Caron was on leave, the town announced that there was a problem with the impact fees Londonderry had collected from developers to mitigate the effect of their projects on town infrastructure. Londonderry had collected some of the money in error and had not used other portions of the funds within six years as required by law.

It was an expensive mistake. Hart announced on July 2 that the town would refund more than $1.2 million in impact fees to developers and landowners.

The impact fees controversy played a role in Caron’s departure.

“During that time, it has become apparent to Mr. Caron and the council that the combination of the Caron family emergency and the town’s pressing business, including the impact fees situation ... has rendered it advisable for Mr. Caron and the town to sever their relationship,” Town Council Chairman John Farrell said in a prepared statement announcing Caron’s resignation.

Hart acted immediately and made the necessary changes in accounting and record-keeping to correct the impact fees problem.

Other changes instituted by Hart have perhaps been premature.

Hart has said he has no interest in pursuing the permanent town manager position.

“I’m a police chief and I am very happy and satisfied to serve the town in that context,” he told our reporter in July.

But since then, Hart has made some sweeping changes in the structure of town government, realigning departments and reducing the responsibilities of some top-level managers.

Hart eliminated the assistant town manager position — one that has existed since 2004 — leaving Susan Hickey to focus full-time as director of finance and administration. Hickey’s salary was reduced from $120,231 to $109,524 as a result.

Hart also shifted the Building Department from Community Development to the town manager’s office. That would allow Andre Garron, currently the community development director, to direct his full attention to planning and economic development, Hart said.

The move also comes with a pay cut for Garron, from $99,842 to $93,294.

Both moves received Town Council approval.

Hart argues that the moves streamline the departments involved, improve their focus and save taxpayers money. Those are all laudable goals — but establishing a leadership team and departmental structure is properly the role of a full-time town manager.

An acting town manager’s role is to maintain the status quo, putting out whatever brush fires may erupt during his tenure but leaving more comprehensive decisions to whomever the town hires to fill the position permanently.

Hart isn’t doing anything wrong here. His decisions may even be good ones — but they should not be his to make.

The Town Council ought to think twice about letting Hart make such major changes to the structure of town government. The council should have enough confidence in the person it will eventually hire as town manager to let him or her decide such matters.