by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – Town Manager Shaun Fielder formally told the Hardwick Select Board on March 18 that he will not be renewing his employment contract, which ends on May 31.
Citing “personal reasons,” Fielder said, “I have made a decision to go a different direction. I am really proud of my 2-plus years here in Hardwick.” He said he appreciated the support he has received from the community and the select board. He intends to fulfil the remaining days on his contract, he said.
Fielder later said “We’ve accomplished a lot these past two years, including various projects to improve town infrastructure across the board. This last year in particular the town was focused on keeping various town services functioning for the good of all community members. This was not easy but has been accomplished due to a very dedicated set of employees who are committed public servants, I will miss working with them.”
Select board chair Eric Remick said he reached out to Abby Friedman of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) and she “pretty strongly recommends” the board consider an interim town manager “to buy ourselves a little more time to do a search.” He noted the two previous times the town conducted a town manager search the VLCT had been “very helpful, they handle a lot of the administrative work, they keep us on the straight and narrow as far as following HR guidelines and all that.”
This time around he said she told him getting assistance through the organization could be more challenging. “I asked her, ‘what could they do? And what would the pricing look like?’ And she emailed me late this afternoon saying that she’s still not sure that they have the bandwidth to help us right now,” he said. “They actually are busy helping other towns. It depends some on our time frame and she’ll get back to me if they can’t help us.” Remick said a similar organization existed in New Hampshire, according to Friedman.
Remick said, “The last two times we’ve done a [town manager] search we cast a fairly wide net. Last time [we] reviewed a lot of applications, interviewed quite a lot of people. Personally, I’m not sure it’s worth casting a super wide net. I think focusing on New England might be a little more efficient for us.”
He said Friedman reminded him there is no statute mandating the board to conduct a town manager search and they could instead simply hire someone.
“If we had a candidate that we knew was qualified and wanting to do the job, we could interview that person and hire them,” he said. “But I don’t think we have that person.”
Friedman told him she knew of a retired person in southern Vermont with relevant experience who might be a possibility. Board member Shari Cornish said she was inquiring whether former Town Manager Jon Jewett might be willing to serve as an interim town manager “to get us through the pandemic.”
With time constraints on the meeting and an executive session still to go, the board discussed holding a special meeting prior to the next scheduled meeting to decide the matter. Remick said “If we are wanting to hire an interim [town manager], let’s move in that direction. If not need, then we really need to get on the stick and start a search.”