Vandal: ‘Something has to change’
Apr 29, 2020 11:05PM
By Lisa Redmond
Interim Town Manager Ann Vandal
DRACUT – In a letter to the Board of Selectmen last
Friday interim Town Manager Ann Vandal has essentially issued an ultimatum:
either sign a two-year contract naming her the new manager and allow her to
hire professional assistance or within the next 60 days – in the middle of the
COVID-19 crisis -- she will return to her prior position as assistant Town
“When I was appointed, I agreed at that time that we could manage without abandoning my duties as assistant town manager/finance director,’’ Vandal wrote. “It has become apparent with the influx of COVID-19 and all of its impacts on the daily management of the town, something has to change.’’
Vandal requested that either she returns to her job as assistant town administrator/finance director or enter into two-year contract to continue as Town Manager and have the means necessary to hire the professional assistance the town needs and deserves, she wrote.
As a result, Selectmen Chair Jesse Forcier posted a special selectmen’s meeting at 6 p.m. on May 4 via Zoom (Webinar ID- 894 7395 2247) to:
· Consider and vote on the town manager search Re-evaluate (the town manager search) process in light of COVID-19 declaration of emergency.
· Consider and vote on the employment of Ann Vandal, interim Town Manager, as the new Town Manager for a period up to two years.
Vandal has been the interim Town Manager since last October when former Town Manager James Duggan resigned under a cloud of controversy over his mishandling of the town's public bidding procedures. The state Attorney General has since found the town violated state procurement laws and ordered immediate changes in the town's bidding process.
The board formed a Town Manager Search Committee to search for a new Town Manager. While Vandal applied for the town’s top job, the search committee did not select her as a finalist.
Instead, the committee chose four other candidates as finalists: former Amesbury Mayor Kenneth Gray, Groton Town Manager Mark Haddad, Framingham Chief Operating Officer Thatcher Kezer III, and Southbridge Town Manager Ronald San Angelo.
Before the selectmen could hold public hearings for the finalists the Coronavirus hit the town, the state and the country essentially shutting down public interaction to try to stem the spread of COVID-19.
With the annual Town Election rescheduled to June 29 when two selectmen seats will open, Selectman candidate Mark Pease is calling for the board to suspend the town manager search and restarting the search process after two new board members are elected.
During the past six months, Vandal has had to navigate the rough waters of the COVID-19 crisis and kept the town government running. Selectmen have praised Vandal's work in handling this unprecedented crisis.
She also has the support of many town employees who signed a petition asking the selectmen to overrule the search committee and add her name to the finalist list.
In Vandal’s letter (page one and two), which was posted on The Dracut Connection’s Facebook page, she wrote, “Despite my leadership and performance, I still have not garnered the full board’s confidence and support in the form of an endorsement to be a finalist for the position I have held twice in the last six years,’’ she wrote.
The Town Manager needs “trust of his or her Board of Selectmen to make decisions that will undoubtably need to be made in hard financial climates. I am confident in my professional abilities and its disappointing we have ended up here.’’
She added, “If it is determined that the board wishes to continue the process in place, I respect that and will return to my prior position in 60 days. Quite honestly, none of us saw the health crisis and associated disruptions, constraints and fiscal damage it has and will continue to have on our community.’’
She continued, “As we look to the future, the town must keep a close eye on its financial position.’’
With the collapse of the economy due to this pandemic and the impact it may have on the town’s budget, “I believe we must move forward with the appointment of a Town Manager in order to assure that proper attention is give to our fiscal health along with all the other important town business,” she wrote.