Embattled Public Works Director John Price Resigns

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By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, April 29, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- Embattled Public Works Director John Price handed in his resignation Monday, saying he's had enough of the disparaging comments made against him by the vice chairman of the town's Budget Committee and others.

Price told selectmen Monday his resignation will take effect at the end of the May.

"Working under constant backstabbing is nerve-wracking, to say the least," said Price, who gave his resignation letter to Town Manager Fred Welch prior to the board meeting.

Price's departure comes on the heels of Budget Committee Vice Chairman Mary-Louise Woolsey publicly commenting last week she has had ongoing concerns with the atmosphere at public works.

"There is an incendiary personal situation in the public works department, and it's getting worse," she said. "There is a potential, literally, for physical violence. You have employees whose civil rights are being infringed upon, and they are being bullied, intimidated and treated in a poor fashion. No individual should be subjected to what is happening to the employees at the public works department."

Selectmen said they have received no formal complaints to back up Woolsey's accusations.

Prior to announcing his resignation, Price addressed those comments for the first time publicly.

"It's a fact in the past there has been some fear and intimidation that almost resulted in fisticuffs," Price said. "But this individual who was responsible for causing this is no longer employed by the town. For someone to come before this board and make inflammatory statements indicating that this is the current atmosphere of public works is not fair to the dedicated employees at public works."

Selectmen said they were shocked by Price's announcement.

"We had no idea beforehand," said selectmen Chairman Richard Nichols. "It was a surprise."

Selectman Mike Pierce said it was obvious Woolsey's comments from the prior meeting got to Price.

"I'm disappointed that somebody in the town of Hampton can cause an employee to be this unhappy with their employment," Pierce said. "I think it's a black cloud on Hampton that a town person would continually badmouth someone who works for the town."

Selectman Bill Lally admitted Price has had some issues with town employees since he was hired in 2008, replacing longtime DPW director John Hangen.

"There is no question John has rubbed some people the wrong way in this town, as many other department heads have over the years," Lally said. "But I think it's a hell of a way to go out like this, and I will leave it at that."

Last year, former public works employee Stephen Tilton backed up a scathing unsigned 16-page report to selectmen criticizing the management of the Department of Public Works under the leadership of Price.

The report alleged departmental cooperation had suffered, proper bid practices had not always been followed, especially when friends were involved, and Price ruled with "fear and intimidation" since he joined the department in 2008.

Once the document was leaked to the public, Tilton acknowledged that while he wasn't the report's author, it was an accurate "representation of the current conditions of the Department of Public Works in the town of Hampton."

At the time, selectmen said they investigated the report's allegations and found many were not factual.

But behind-the-scenes talk of unrest in the department did not go away.

Last week, Nichols said the board directed Woolsey to meet with Welch to discuss her recent concerns but as of Tuesday, she had not scheduled that meeting.

Reached at her home on Tuesday, Woolsey called Price's resignation "long overdue."

But she doesn't believe her comments are what caused him to resign.

"I have been making comments for quite a while," Woolsey said. "Sometimes you might resign to keep ahead of the inevitable."

Nichols said the town manager has already drafted a job description to start advertising to hire a new DPW director.

After his announcement, Price said he did not want expand on his reasons for resignation at this time.

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