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AYER – “We successfully negotiated a contract with our new Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand so we’d like to congratulate him and welcome him,” said Ayer Selectman Chairman Rick Gilles at the outset of Tuesday night’s selectmen’s meeting.

Pontbriand was seated in the audience. The selectmen meet in executive session prior to the open meeting that was posted as a “contract strategy” session. When asked by former selectman Pauline Conley when it was that agreement was reached on a contract with Pontbriand himself, Gilles said he “asked in him passing” informally in the hallway prior to the open session meeting. “He said ‘yes,” Gilles said.

Gilles said the written contract and its terms would be shared publically once it’s been finalized and signed by the selectmen and Pontbriand. Pressed on Pontbriand’s salary, Gilles said it will fall “smack in the middle of the range” advertised of $72,000 to $92,000, which is roughly where Pontbriand valued himself during his July 1 public selectmen interview.

Pontbriand will have a three-year contract in which he earns $84,376.08 in his initial year. He’ll be a Grade 15, Step 5 on the town compensation grid.

Interim Town Administrator Jeff Ritter, a named finalist passed over for the permanent post, is to remain aboard through his interim contract term of Friday, July 30. Pontbriand will officially start the next business day, Monday August 2. Pontbriand’s contract will run through August 1, 2013.

Conley quizzed Gilles as to whether a “just cause” dismissal clause, present in the contracts of prior Town Administrators Shaun Suhoski and Jim Kriedler, will remain for Pontbriand’s contract. She’d noted at the selectmen’s last meeting that last September, Pepperell’s town counsel advised Pepperell selectmen against permitting “just cause” language as was requested as a term of employment by then Town Administrator candidate Kyle Keady.

Keady later said he lynchpin in his decision to stay aboard as Shirley Town Administrator instead of taking the Pepperell Job was the refusal of the “just cause” language. He was reported as stating he didn’t want to assume the risk of employment at the political whim of a majority selectmen vote. Nine months later, Keady was fired by Shirley selectmen in June after criminal charges were lodged against him for audio and videotaped spying around Shirley Town Hall.

“Yes that’s still in,” said Gilles, “Our town counsel vetted it and had no problem.”

“It was run past Kopelman and Paige,” Conley asked of Gilles before turning to Ritter, “Can Mr. Ritter tell us when?” Ritter shook his head no.

Gilles clarified that the contract was last reviewed by town counsel when the selectmen entered into its last contract with Suhoski in 2008. Selectman Jim Fay and Gilles agreed, “We didn’t spend more money to get the same answers,” Gilles said.

“A lot of good work was done,” Giles said, “I think it’s a good contract.”

At meeting’s end, selectmen thanked Ritter for his work manning the Town Administrator’s office since mid April.

“A lot of people said to me they’ve appreciated what you’ve done,” said Selectman Gary Luca, “You’ve done well for the town and we appreciate it.”

“No problem,” Ritter said.

“In the short time you’ve been here, you took the bull by the horns and moved us along and I really appreciate it,” said selectman Carolyn McCreary.

There’s not another regularly scheduled selectmen’s meeting until Tuesday, August 3 and so Tuesday was likely Ritter’s last Ayer selectmen’s meeting as the Board’s chief administrator.

“Contract negotiations have been completed,” Pontbriand confirmed after the meeting, agreeing that he’d accepted the board’s terms, “It’s just a formality signing it.” The contract is to be signed by week’s end.

Pontbriand said while he doesn’t officially start until August, he will be visiting with Ritter for some overlap exposure to the Town Administrator’s office before taking the reins.

“During the interim, Mr. Ritter has been very gracious,” Pontbriand said, “I’m going to be meeting with him and working through the transition.”

It’s the “goal of all the parties” to provide a seamless transition, Pontbriand said. In the weeks to come he plans meetings with selectmen and department heads as well as Ritter to get up to speed.

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