The Block Island Times

Draft contract for Dodge ok’d

Still needs review
By Stephanie Turaj | Sep 06, 2013

The Town Council voted for a nine-month contract period for Town Manager Nancy Dodge, with a review of her performance in January 2014. The council also drafted the terms of the contract, which vary only slightly from her most recent contract that expired in December 2012.

The council went point-by-point through Dodge’s most recent contract (since it expired, Dodge has been serving as town manager without a contract) and discussed changes to be made. The council did not vote on the final contract at the Tuesday, Sept. 3 meeting, as Dodge said that she would like to have a say about it before the council casts a final vote at a future meeting.

“In fairness, it’s a negotiation,” said Dodge to the council. “It would be nice if you asked me to weigh in on it. That’s only fair.” Town Councilors agreed.

The day after the meeting, Nancy Dodge weighed on in on the proposed contract to The Block Island Times.

“It’s very confusing to me that we had a discussion on my contract on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday night [the next day] there’s an agenda item about the need for a town manager search committee,” said Dodge. “I’m getting frustrated.”

The council spent about two hours debating the draft contract, what to put in it, and what to leave out. At one point, Councilor Chris Warfel motioned to table this discussion until after a work session scheduled for the next day, because he felt the work session would include a discussion of relevant points. However, this motion failed in a 2-3 vote (Warfel and Sean McGarry voted for the motion), and councilors returned to the matter at hand.

For the time period of the contract, councilors made several suggestions. McGarry mentioned both a four-and-a-half month or a six-month period, while Warfel suggested a nine-month contract with a review in three months.

The council voted 3-2 for a nine-month contract, with a review taking place in January. First Warden Kim Gaffett and Councilor Norris Pike were opposed. “I feel strongly that it [the contract period] shouldn’t be any less than a year,” said First Warden Kim Gaffett.

Councilors also considered putting in specific expectations about the town manager’s job, but Gaffett noted that these could be decided in a separate document, rather than in the contract itself. However, two expectations were to be included in the draft contract. The town manager would be expected to provide weekly status updates to the council, and perform yearly reviews of all employees she oversees.

The draft also includes the terms of Dodge’s benefits package, which is similar to other town employees. It outlines her basic duties, which are to keep the Town Council informed, manage town employees and perform duties as specified in the Town Charter.

At several points there was a discussion about whether or not Dodge would serve as both town manager and public works director, which she does now. Some councilors thought that they could hire a separate public works director, or a facilities director, which would possibly be a part-time position.

“There’s just so much on the town manager’s plate,” said Second Warden Ken Lacoste, who added that he has heard comments from island residents that the public works position might be better suited to someone who has direct experience in this field, such as having an engineering degree.

“Perhaps we can find someone that can do both jobs equally,” said McGarry. To this, councilor Norris Pike responded: “We have a person who does both those jobs already. From where I sit, I can’t see the shortcomings of Dodge.”

The council did not decide on the public works position at this meeting. If there was to be a new public works director, it would have to be included in the budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2014.

Nancy Dodge told The Block Island Times the day after the meeting that the discussion “didn’t seem to have a place in the conversation about my contract.” She did note that according to the Town Charter, she is performing this role with no extra pay, and she has “always been in favor of someone taking that role off my desk.”

At a separate town council work session, the next day on Wednesday, Sept. 4, the topic of Nancy Dodge and her contract resurfaced several times. Councilor Chris Warfel spent the night asking many questions of Dodge. (See related story, page 4). At more than one point, the conversation grew heated — a back and forth occurred between Dodge and Warfel about the services of Town Engineer Jim Geremia. There was also a debate over Dodge’s benefits package included in the contract — Warfel had been unsure if Dodge’s benefits were in fact the same or similar to other town employees. The council eventually agreed they were similar.

“This [discussion of my contract] has been going on for three months,” said Dodge. “When you talked about my contract yesterday, I would like to rely on the fact that that’s the end of the questions.”

Town Councilor Sean McGarry had also requested that an agenda item be on the Wednesday agenda: “Need for Town Manager Search Committee.” At the meeting, McGarry explained this request. “Other communities are having a difficult time finding town managers,” he said. “To transition from the town manager to a new town manager, we need to start discussing a search committee.” McGarry later mentioned that it’s possible the town manager could chose to leave the post “as early as next week,” even though Dodge had previously told The Block Island Times that she isn’t intending on leaving.

Other councilors said that McGarry’s request is no longer appropriate, since the council had just the day before discussed her draft contract. “To do that [form a search committee] is to discuss what we’ve been doing in bad faith,” said  First Warden Gaffett.

Earlier in the summer, on June 6, McGarry had also sent an email to First Warden Kim Gaffett that said: “Hi Kim, could you please include an agenda item. ‘discuss and act on  termination of Nancy Dodge as Town Manager.’” Thank you Sean.” Gaffett responded in an email on June 7: “We have set up a process for TM evaluation, and we will proceed with that.”

McGarry told The Block Island Times was that his intention with this email was not necessarily to “terminate” Dodge, but to have a discussion about it. “When I was scoring my evaluation, I felt that it might be a discussion on whether or not terminating the town manager would be something the council might want to discuss,” he said.

Dodge told The Block Island Times that if McGarry or Warfel intended to terminate her, she wished they would be honest and open about it. “If I thought the overriding sentiment in the community was that I wasn’t doing my job, I wouldn’t need Sean or Chris telling me to leave,” said Dodge. “If I felt I wasn’t meeting my own expectations about doing my job, I would retire or resign. I’m not doing either.”

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