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PEPPERELL — Months of searching came to and end this week when former Newburyport Mayor John Moak signed on as town administrator for a three-year term through December 2012.

He did so in front of all department heads, several School Committee members and residents who had filled all available meeting rooms to participate in a school budget discussion.

Moak’s first day on the job will be Jan. 4. Until then, Peggy Mazzola will continue as interim administrator. She will then return to her administrative assistant functions.

Contract negotiations took place last week in a closed door session that were concluded the same night.

The signing of the contract coincided with the kickoff for the 2011 budget-setting season, so noted by Chairman Joseph Sergi who said Moak “understands the importance of tonight’s discussion.

“He has agreed to the added responsibility of financial oversight as well as IT functions,” Sergi said, “a big milestone that I hope will permeate to the future.”

Moak’s contracted salary will be $94,000 with no increase for 18 months. Beyond that there is a performance based 0 to 2 1/2 percent option. The position’s vacation time was reduced by five days. The Board of Selectmen will define annual goals, Sergi said.

The contract calls for annual performance review. Pay and benefits can be suspended at any time by selectmen without hearing but with notice. If he decides to leave, Moak must render 45 days notice. His employment can be terminated if Moak seeks another job within the first two years of the contract.

The job is a salaried position making the administrator an exempt executive employee. His office hours include normal business hours, all selectmen meetings, Annual Town Meeting, Special Town Meetings and others that may be required.

Unlike his predecessor, Moak has a detailed job description. He will function as personnel administrator and the hiring authority for personnel within his office and that of selectmen subject to approval by the board continues.

The job carries 20 days of non-accumulating vacation and can bank up to 20 days of sick leave for the first two years of the contract, plus other leave specified in the town code. Opportunity for professional development and reasonable travel expense reimbursement is included.

The administrator is paid $1,000 per year for opting to take a single health care policy when eligible for a family plan. He will be paid $2,000 per year if he opts not to take the town’s health care insurance.

During his interviews, Moak strongly expressed his desire to leave the urban environment to work in a town with less than 15,000 residents because he prefers to operate with a more personal approach than what’s afforded a small-city mayor.