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Regional Report: Hartford Board Considers Town Manager's Contract

While the co-chairmen of the Selectboard have expressed support publicly for Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg, other board members on Tuesday wouldn’t say how they would vote on Rieseberg’s contract renewal.

Co-Chairman Alex DeFelice said the board likely would start discussing the three-year contract extension during executive session at the June 10 Selectboard meeting. The renewal happens automatically on Sept. 23 unless the board votes to stop it.

Though the board isn’t obligated to act, DeFelice said members would hold a vote regardless and would do so long before the contract’s September deadline.

“The majority of the board does not want this to fester out four months,” said DeFelice, adding that he is happy with Rieseberg’s performance over the past 18 years and is “pro-Hunter,” but that “it isn’t appropriate for me to come out and make a decision prior to the complete board airing out what everyone wants to say.”

“It is our intent to deal with this very shortly here,” he said.

Newly elected Selectboard member Matt Bucy on Tuesday declined to offer an opinion on Rieseberg’s contract. He said he would like to hear what the other six board members have to say before making a decision.

“I am brand new to the board, so I don’t feel like I have enough information to make a call on it yet,” Bucy, 50, of Hartford Village, said on Tuesday. “I want to hear out the other board members and see where they stand with it.”

Bucy said he has heard complaints from community members about Rieseberg, who has been in the position for nearly two decades, but that he hasn’t heard concrete facts to back up the criticisms. He said Rieseberg should receive an objective, performance-based evaluation.

The public debate about Rieseberg’s contract started last month when a small group of residents — including two former selectmen — signed on to an open letter asking the Selectboard to block the automatic renewal and end Rieseberg’s stint as town manager.

Rieseberg, who makes just shy of $123,000, said recently that he would like to see his contract renewed.

Like Bucy, Selectman Simon Dennis declined to say on Tuesday how he’d vote on a contract extension or speculate on what action the Selectboard might ultimately take. Board members also have the option of altering the length of Rieseberg’s next contract.

“This particular conversation is very delicate,” Dennis said. “I don’t think that discussing it at this junction is going to benefit the process.”

Selectman Ken Parker said Tuesday afternoon that unless something “so negative” surfaces, he would vote to keep Rieseberg in office.

“I see nothing, nothing at all, that would suggest otherwise,” Parker said.

Parker said Rieseberg has advanced the town from an economic development standpoint, provided order and efficiency throughout the budget-writing process and has been a good steward of tax dollars.

Board members Chuck Wooster, Dick Grassi and Sandra Mariotti didn’t return requests for comment.

Glenn Cutting, a former police chief, and David Briggs, whose family owns the downtown Gates-Briggs Building, along with residents Peter Schaal, Mike Morris and Daryl Hadlock were the first to sign the anti-Rieseberg letter, which was posted on the Hartford listserv by resident and musician Jon Appleton last month and has since been circulated at area businesses and other locations.

As of May 23, about 80 residents had signed the open letter, which calls for “change” in Hartford and states, “After almost twenty years in office and with many genuinely good accomplishments to his credit, (Rieseberg) has also stirred misgivings, disappointment, distrust and resentment.”

Former selectman F. X. Flinn, also one of the first to sign the letter, said he’s “not sure” how many people have signed so far.

DeFelice said that if residents have a complaint about the town manager, they should contact the Selectboard.

“If there are people out there who have something they want to say, now is a good time to bring it forward,” DeFelice said.

Rieseberg’s contract automatically renews in three-year increments. While the current contract doesn’t expire until September 2015, the town is contractually obligated to give Rieseberg 12-months notice that the contract won’t be renewed, giving the Selectboard until the end of summer to act.

Bucy and DeFelice said Rieseberg’s long tenure, 18 years, is not an argument for going in a different direction.

“I don’t think change for the sake of change is good,” Bucy said.

He added, however, that he isn’t a fan of the automatic renewal clause in Rieseberg’s contract.

“The Selectboard needs to be tasked with making a decision,” Bucy said.

Jordan Cuddemi is a reporter for the Valley News.

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