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AYER — Salary proved a major factor in the selectmen’s decision to offer Economic Development Director Shaun Suhoski the town administrator’s job.

In a 3-2 decision with Selectmen Pauline Conley and Frank Maxant against, the board voted to offer the job to Suhoski with a salary of $68,089.68 after an hour and a half discussion last Friday evening.

Another candidate, former Braintree town manager Terri Ackerman, had requested an $80,000 to $95,000 salary and held out the possibility of a lower demand. Littleton administrator Timothy Goddard had spoken about the $70,000 range in an interview.

Conley, a former Personnel Board member, explained that new salary step levels adopted by selectmen do not agree with Personnel Board policy but that, depending upon circumstance, selectmen can choose a three-step salary structure for the job capped at a step two of $72,448.

An offer of more would have to go before the depleted Personnel Board, which now only has two members following the death of its chairman, Charles Helling, in December.

Selectman Paul Bresnahan asked police Chief Richard Rizzo, one of the two Personnel Board members, the extent that selectmen could go. Rizzo said the Personnel Board was revamping the pay structure when Helling died.

“Because we don’t have a Personnel Board we couldn’t go (higher), in my opinion as one of two members remaining,” Rizzo said.

Selectman Cornelius Sullivan noted that Ackerman, the candidate with top recommendation by the search committee, had been earning $95,000 when her job was terminated.

“That’s over a $20,000 decrease,” he said. “The cut to the mustard is she’s a viable candidate assuming we offer the top.”

“We don’t know until we ask, or if any of the candidates would know (their answer),” Conley said.

“Even if Ackerman compromised we couldn’t meet [her asking price],” Selectmen Chairman Faye Morrison said. “I didn’t hear from her she wouldn’t take $80,000. I won’t and we can’t offer (that). We have to make a decision. We are charged.”

“She isn’t about to entertain an offer much below $80,000,” Bresnahan said of Ackerman.

Sullivan moved to offer the job to Suhoski. Bresnahan seconded it.

In discussion, Selectman Frank Maxant, who had stated his preference for Ackerman, said, “Maybe Paul is the only one old enough to remember the Peter Principal where a person is promoted upward until they reach the level at which they cannot perform.

“It occurs to me we might find that if we offer the job to Shaun,” Maxant said. “I’ve spoken with him. He doesn’t seem to understand what the people of this town want. He seems motivated by development dollars. Without considering a change in character, this town doesn’t want (that).

“When Devens Common was planned as a retail center it was fine with him (when the Reuse Plan said it was not to be a retail center),” Maxant continued. “He doesn’t fit. He tends to miss the point. He’s fine as an economic development director but not as a town manager.

“The Personnel Board in private talks didn’t expect to take him seriously,” Maxant added. “(There have been) lots of promises with no follow-through.”

Morrison said she hadn’t asked the search committee’s opinion because she did not want to micro-manage.

“No one on the search committee offered an opinion they were doing anything out of courtesy,” she said. “Mr. Maxant, at some point you have to decide and not muddy the water with other committees. It’s the job of this board.”

Sullivan said he would agree Suhoski doesn’t fit the town if the director were running for selectman but it is selectmen who set policy for the town administrator.

“Because you may not agree with Mr. Suhoski doesn’t’ mean (he can’t do the job),” Sullivan said. “Prior to tonight, I never asked for information from an executive session,” he added, glancing in Maxant’s direction.

Conley called attention to a municipal Rule of Necessity which, she said, permits Personnel Board to act. She said she believes a salary solution could be worked out.

“I have no doubt Mr. Suhoski will accept. I was concerned before the search that he was a candidate,” she said. “Ms. Ackerman is a viable candidate.”

“We have a two-person Personnel Board,” Morrison said. “It is a question of being hamstrung, it’s a question of keeping an eye on the bottom line. I am not inclined to meet with the Personnel Board.”

Bresnahan asked if the board is prepared to consider raising the base offer. Conley and Bresnahan were, Sullivan and Maxant weren’t.

Conley argued the advertisement said salary is negotiable depending on experience and the board is not offering negotiability.

Morrison said the question could be moved.

Maxant cautioned that it must be made clear the offer includes no remuneration package that could end up costing the town more than planned.

Bresnahan moved to amend Sullivan’s motion to demand a probationary period that follows the personnel policy and procedure manual. It was accepted.

Conley added an amendment to add the words “subject to contract negotiations,” which was also approved.

When Morrison called for a vote, Conley raised a point of order.

“Ayer has adopted a position of executive secretary,” she said. “The job description we’ve offered refers to a charter this town doesn’t have.”

Sullivan further amended his motion to read “town administrator a.k.a. executive secretary.”

The adopted motion offers Suhoski $68,089.68 subject to a probationary period, contract negotiations and specific time management and hours of work

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