Carbondale board declines to renew town manager’s contract
December 17, 2010
CARBONDALE – A decision late Wednesday not to renew the contract of Carbondale Town Manager Tom Baker signals a desire on the part of a majority of the town’s Board of Trustees for an administrative change in direction, Carbondale Mayor Stacey Bernot said.
That majority is a slim one, however, with the decision coming on a 4-3 vote after numerous hours of closed-door discussions in recent weeks related to Baker’s contract.
“As elected officials charged with the ultimate responsibility for the town, we have determined that a change in the leadership of our organization is necessary,” Bernot said Thursday, following another lengthy executive session Wednesday night, after which the board declined to renew Baker’s contract.
“This is something we deliberated on for quite some time,” Bernot said. “In the end, the majority was not in favor of renewing his contract.”
Baker has served as Carbondale’s top administrator for six years. His contract was set to expire on Dec. 31.
Upon returning to open session Wednesday, Trustee Frosty Merriott said he made a motion to renew Baker’s contract for two years, which Trustee Pam Zentmyer seconded.
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The motion failed 4-3, with Mayor Bernot and Trustees John Foulkrod, Elizabeth Murphy and Ed Cortez carrying the majority. Merriott, Zentmyer and John Hoffmann voted in favor of the contract renewal.
The board did not entertain another motion, Bernot said, which means Baker’s contract will be allowed to expire.
A statement issued by town attorney Mark Hamilton indicated that the board asked Baker to continue his employment with the town into 2011 to assist with transition. The board will also negotiate a mutually agreeable severance package.
“The entire Board of Trustees extended its gratitude to Mr. Baker for his dedicated service to the Carbondale community,” the statement read.
Baker, reached at Town Hall Thursday afternoon, said he intends to fulfill his continued obligation to the town.
“The board really spent a lot of time considering this decision, and I know it was very difficult for them,” Baker said. “I have talked to the board, and I want to be a team player to work through this transition. I intend to be a productive and positive member of the team until I leave office here.”
Baker said that could be as long as three months, although the details of that agreement still need to be worked out, both he and Bernot said.
Merriott said he was disappointed in the board’s decision, especially after roughly 150 citizens submitted or signed letters of support for retaining Baker as town manager.
“Many of these people are leaders of the community,” Merriott said. “That’s pretty impressive, and it shows there was a lot of support in the community for Tom and the job he’s done.”
Merriott also discounted comments that the contract discussions had become “politicized,” as one member of the public commented at the town board’s regular Tuesday night meeting.
“We’ve asked our citizens to get involved, and I believe that’s what gives the town the strength and character it has,” Merriott said. “It’s community involvement at its best when people write a letter or come to a board meeting to express their views.”
As for the board’s decision, “I’m extremely disappointed and saddened, and I think this is the wrong move for Carbondale,” he said.
Merriott referred to a 2008 internal staff evaluation of Baker’s performance, in which he received the highest rating, “Exceeds Expectations,” in every category, including working with other town staff, managing the budget, leadership, planning for the future, and communication.
Bernot said she acknowledges Baker’s successes, but said it was time for a change.
“I appreciate everything Tom has done for town, and the community as a whole,” she said. “Changes like these are never easy, especially when you’re dealing with someone you like and respect.”
While Bernot said different board members had their own reasons for not renewing Baker’s contract, she acknowledged that the discovery earlier this year that some $88,000 in town use taxes had gone uncollected weighed in her decision.
Former Carbondale community development director Doug Dotson resigned in the aftermath of that discovery. The town has since been working with building owners who were determined to owe back taxes on construction projects completed since 2006 to collect the amount owed.
“For me, that was an important consideration [in the Baker decision],” Bernot said. “But I also took into account a lot of other factors, comments and information.
“In my role as mayor, I know I have a lot of work to do to maintain the public’s confidence and support,” she said.