January 4, 2011

Salem Town Manager Contract gets OK

Union Leader Correspondent
SALEM -- After years of town manager turnover, selectmen have finalized a contract for incoming manager Keith Hickey that is meant to encourage longevity.
Hickey, who is currently serving as town manager in Merrimack, will take the Salem post in April.
Under the three-year contract, Hickey will earn $128,000 per year, with an annual salary
 and performance review, according to the document signed last week. 

After each annual evaluation, selectmen will also have the option to extend the contract an additional year, according to the document. 
“If the manager is doing a good job, rather than waiting for the contract to expire, we’re going to add a year onto his contract to promote stability and to allow us to do some long-range planning,” Lyons said. 
Former Town Manager Jonathan Sistare officially resigned from the post last summer, after a lengthy medical leave for cancer treatment. Henry LaBranche, who served as manager before Sistare, stepped up in the interim. 
Hickey will make $7,000 per year more than what Sistare was earning at the time of his resignation, Lyons said. 
Lyons said selectmen tried to include some incentives, like accrued vacation time, to encourage Hickey to stick around. 
“Longevity is important on several levels and we’ve been able to maintain some stability in that office only through the graciousness of Dr. LaBranche being willing to come back,” Lyons said. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to do that again, so it’s very important that we get some long-term stability in there.” 
Hickey will get 5 sick days and 20 vacation days per year, with the option to carry over one week of that vacation each year up to a six-week limit, according to the contract. 
The contract requires that Hickey pay 25 percent of his health insurance premium, which Lyons said he hopes becomes a trend among town employees. 
“Along with other municipalities and private companies, we’ve had trouble with the cost of health care, so we need to get our employees to share more of that cost,” Lyons said. “We’re trying to set an example with the town manager and work our way down.” 
Currently, there are no other employees who pay a similar share of their heath care costs, he said. 
The contract’s termination process allows the selectmen to terminate Hickey’s employment with cause at any time without any compensation to Hickey. If the termination is without cause, Salem will have to pay Hickey six months salary and continue to pay 75 percent of his health insurance costs for six months. 
To receive payment for unused vacation time, Hickey would need to give 30 days notice before leaving the post, according to the contract. 
Selectman Pat Hargreaves, the only board member to vote against the contract, said he wanted to see a probationary period included in the document as it was for Sistare and other town employees. 
“It’s not a bad contract; it’s actually a great contract. My only concern was the probationary period,” Hargreaves said. “Everybody else in the world gets a probationary period, but (Hickey) doesn’t.” 
Lyons sad the important thing is that the document still allows selectmen to end Hickey’s employment with a valid reason. 
“Previously there was a probation of one year to remove a manager for anything (selectmen) felt like, even just changing their minds,” Lyons said. “That’s certainly something Salem doesn’t need. If something’s going to happen here, there’s going to be a cause.” 

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