Welch Accepts Board's 3-month Extension Offer

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St. Pierre Will Continue Drive to Keep Hampton's Manager

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Friday, September 30, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Fred Welch, Hampton Town Manager
[Rich Beauchesne photo 3-12-07]

HAMPTON -- Selectmen may still be divided on whether to keep Town Manager Fred Welch long-term, but they were unanimous in a decision Monday night to offer him a contract extension that would allow him to stay in the position until June 2012.

The board unexpectedly offered Welch a three-month extension following last week's second deadlock vote on whether to offer a new contract when his expires March 11. Welch, who has been with the town since 2007, accepted and the board's offer.

The decision came after a three-hour meeting where residents again blasted the board for its decision to "dump" Welch including Ed St. Pierre who told them his "Save Fred Welch" petition is gaining momentum.

"I made the motion because I didn't think it was fair to obligate a new Board of Selectmen," Griffin said.

Griffin and Selectman Bill Lally have been in support of keeping Welch while Jerry Znoj and Mike Pierce were opposed. Because of the prior deadlock vote selectmen had previously agreed to begin to search for a town manager in the new year and that the new Board of Selectmen elected in March would make the final decision.

Selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols, who has come under fire for abstaining from the town manager vote because he is interested in the job, agreed the extension was a good idea.

"We deferred the hiring of a new manager to the new board but Welch's contract expires March 11 and the new board comes in place around that same time," Nichols said. "I think extending it three months is a wise thing to do."

Znoj and Pierce also saw logic in the move. Znoj said the only reason the board discussed the town manager's contract to begin with was because Griffin requested it.

"I thought it was premature," Znoj said.

Griffin said he brought up the contract renewal because the board's past practice has always been to give the manager a six-month notice of whether they were going to renew or not.

Znoj said he and Pierce based their decision on a performance review conducted by the board in February.

"If we discussed this in December, there would have been more body of time for (Welch) to accomplish certain things," Znoj said.

"I agree it was premature," Pierce said. "It's like buying a new car when you are still paying on a lease."

St. Pierre, who requested the board extend Welch's contract, said he was pleased by the board's decision.

"I think we won an important battle, but the war is not over," St. Pierre said. "But what this does is give the new constituted Board of the Selectmen to make the decision and hopefully they will keep Fred in place."

St. Pierre believes this will be a hot topic during the election as both Znoj and Lally are up for election. Lally agreed.

"I think this is going to be the election issue," said Lally, who has not made a decision on whether he will seek reelection. "People want to keep Fred Welch and I think you're going to see a big turn out at the polls."

Despite the board's vote, St. Pierre said he is going to continue his petition drive. "It's even more important than ever to take a stand and send a message," St. Pierre said.

St. Pierre said he began the petition drive because the board's decision didn't "smell right." "I wanted to get to the bottom of it and the more I dug, the more I realized there was no smoking gun," he said.

The two selectmen who voted against offering Welch a contract said they couldn't comment on their reasons as it was a personnel matter.

St. Pierre, who said he has no political motives or aspirations to run for office, said he also spoke with town employees and department heads who were all in support of keeping Welch.

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