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Paris board to fire town manager
PARIS — Within 24 hours of his return to work after burying his wife, Paris Town Manager Phil Tarr says he was paid a visit by selectboard Chairman Bob Kirchherr and Vice-Chair Jean Smart to tell him he might be out of a job.
"I was informed by Chairman Kirchherr that 'the board is inclined to send you a letter informing you that it does not wish to extend your contract beyond the three-year period,'" Tarr said.
"I do not recall a meeting where a vote was taken to even go there," says Tarr.
Tarr says that the selectmen requested a response from him by May 29 but because of a scheduled vacation, Tarr said he told them he would speak with the board on June 7, but he isn't sure exactly what question they are asking.
"Mr. Kirchherr and Jean Smart asked me to give them a decision," said Tarr. "Now what am I to give them a decision on?"
Tarr speculates the board may be maneuvering to force his resignation.
"I'm thinking they would probably rather see me resign," he says.
According to Selectman Ted Kurtz, the board is planning to take a vote on whether to extend Tarr's contract during its next meeting.
"Phil Tarr has been telling residents this week that the board has decided not to ... extend his contract," said Kurtz. "That's true."
"There have been discussions between the board and Phil, and Phil understands that's the decision, but it will come up for ... an official public vote at our next meeting."
Kurtz says that the fact that Tarr has brought the issue into public is the only reason he would comment on the matter.
"I wouldn't be taking about any of this ... except Phil Tarr has himself said to other people, who have related it to me, that the decision of the board is that he is not going to be coming back."
Tarr, who was hired as the Paris town manager in 2009, is in the third year of his three-year contract. The contract is set to automatically renew for a two-year period in late December.
According to the contract, the board of selectmen must give six months written notice of its intention not to renew or enter into a new employment agreement with the town manager. This means that if it wishes to proceed with his termination it must do so before June 30.
If the board removes Tarr from his position on grounds other than gross misconduct of office, it is required to pay him a lump sum cash payment equivalent to nine month's wages, approximately $42,750.
If, however, Tarr resigns his position, the town is not required to pay severance.
The automatic two-year renewal is subject to the establishment of annual goals and objectives for the town by the board and the town manager, a requirement that Tarr says the board has not lived up to.
"I have yet to see goals and objectives," says Tarr. "I didn't see them this year, I saw them for the first time in August of  that were so roughly put together ... things like 'sell the old fire station."'
Tarr says that although there were some goals entered into his evaluation, most of them, such as the Paris road plan, were already in the works and the objectives "by no means would constitute an entire year's worth of work which an employee could be measured against."
Tarr says that he told selectmen that the entire evaluation process, which he says lasted eight months, was "a farce."
He believes that the evaluation was poorly conducted and incomplete.
"I need to find out what my legal rights are, says Tarr. "And that would extend to and include a proper evaluation."
Selectman Ryan Lorrain says that other selectmen felt the evaluation process should be revised, and the board discussed the issue, but it was overshadowed by other concerns.
"I know that we talked about possibly re-doing it last year [but] time really became an issue," says Lorrain.
"The evaluation process ... wasn't a top priority ... it really took a back seat."
Lorrain says that the evaluation is based on a ranking system that takes the average of scores selectmen choose for different categories.
Lorrain thinks numbers do not accurately reflect how well a town manager is doing; he would prefer a different system.
"I'd almost rather just do a narrative," Lorrain says.
Lorrain says that the town is working on coming up with the town's goals for this year.
He says that one goal from the previous year was a sidewalk project, but it was integrated into the 2012 road project.
Lorrain says that the sidewalk project was the only specific goal he could think of off the top of his head, but thinks that having a set of objectives for the town manager is necessary.
"If I was town manager, I'd want to be presented with a list of things ... to be able to look at for the next evaluation process, down the road. Those are measurable things you're looking at and saying 'well, did this get done? Did this get done?'"
Kurtz says that Tarr took exception with the way the evaluation was conducted. He says that Tarr requested a meeting with the board after his initial evaluation was completed earlier in the year.
During a meeting held in executive session in April, Tarr expressed his concern with the evaluation process to the board, Kurtz says.
He says that because of the meeting, he is unsure when the evaluation process was completed.
"Was it completed in January? Was it completed after we heard one more time from Phil? I don't know, it's kind of a hard thing to say," says Kurtz.
He says that there has been no change in the evaluation since the April meeting.
Kurtz declined to state if he thought the board had given Tarr clear goals and objectives, but said that he believes the Paris board has "done a very poor job on a lot of issues."
Neither Kirchherr or Smart would confirm or deny that they had talked with Tarr about not extending his contract, but confirmed that the board planned to put the issue on a future meeting agenda.
State law requires that the removal of a town manager by a board of selectmen must be conducted in public. The process includes filing a written preliminary resolution, a public hearing if the town manager requests it and an adoption of the removal by the board.
"I am disappointed they have taken this step," said Tarr.
"I've enjoyed working here in Paris, we've really had some huge projects completed. To see this just amazes me."