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Reading Town Manager Receives 5% Raise – to $140,000 – for Last Year Before Retiring

Selectmen approved his severance package and raise Tuesday night.

With one eye on the severance package that Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner will receive when he retires one year from this month and the other eye on the budget, the Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday to increase Hechenbleikner’s salary to $140,000 -- by five percent – for his last year on the job.

Hechenbleikner is asking for three months of severance pay, the length that was given when he was hired, Selectman Ben Tafoya said, while the town manager is entitled to 12 months of severance pay. The town manager will also waive payment for any accumulated but unused sick leave and comp time, Tafoya said. Hechenbleikner’s five weeks of paid vacation will be prorated by 5/12ths, based on his retirement date of June 1, 2013.

Selectman Rick Schubert proposed to pay Hechenbleikner $140,000 for the coming fiscal year. That amount “acknowledges Pete’s professionalism and the reality of what we’ll have to pay” the town manager who succeeds him, Schubert said. Schubert cited starting pay for the Burlington administrator at $160,000 and Winchester, at $150,000.

“We’ve underpaid him,” Tafoya agreed.

Nobody has the tenure or respect that Hechenbleikner does, said Selectman James Bonazoli.

"This raise will not put us in financial difficulty,” he said.

Selectman John Arena said he struggled with the proposed pay hike, based on the selectmen’s report to Town Meeting this spring.

The board voted 3-1 in favor of the town manager’s salary for the coming year. Arena voted against the motion.

The board then unanimously approved an employment agreement with Hechenbleikner that spells out his severance pay – $35,000 – and other issues, including vacation and sick leave. Hechenbleikner also agrees to help during the transition to a new town manager, the agreement states.

Town Meeting must approve the agreement, according to the selectmen. This agreement will make Town Meeting’s decision easy, Bonazoli said.

Hechenbleikner became Reading’s town manager on Sept. 22, 1986, the agreement states.

In other action, the selectmen again discussed the town’s demolition delay bylaw and ongoing efforts to rewrite it. The issue: who’s in the group working on the bylaw?   

The group had included two selectmen, two members of the Reading Historical Commission, under whose purview demolition delays fall, resident Erin Calvo-Bacci, whose property was subject to the bylaw and was aggrieved by the decision and town Bylaw Committee member Phil Pacino.  

Schubert proposed that the group include a member of the public. Arena said another resident subject to the bylaw might have a different perspective on it. Hechenbleikner said he had heard complaints about the group’s composition.

Hechenbleikner agreed to add another person to the group. He proposed to stick to his meeting schedule, with the first meeting yesterday, and subsequent ones on July 9 and 18, so he could bring a draft to the selectmen by Aug. 7, anticipating that the warrant for fall Town Meeting closes on Sept. 25.

The bylaw “has been the subject of three warrant articles and two instructional motions at the last three Town Meetings," in April and November, 2011 and April 2012, according to a letter submitted to the board by Town Meeting member Angela Binda. She believes a working group that includes representatives from the Historical Commission “has the best chance of drafting revisions that could reach a consensus and go to Town Meeting with endorsement from interested parties.” 

peter lucci June 21, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Truly amazing that the BoS just gave the outgoing Town Manager a 5% raise!!! What planet are these folks living on (with the obvious exception of Mr. Arena)? Leave it to Dick Schubert to "spin" it in his typical fashion, comparing Peter H's salary to the Burlington Town Administrator's salary and how dare they insult our intelligence by claiming that Peter H has been "underpaid"!!!! Do these same folks forget that Peter was given an Assistant TM a few years back, in addition to annual salary increases? And how wonderful of Peter to pass on all these trumped up retirement benefits, what a guy.
pomeroy41144 June 21, 2012 at 01:49 PM
What do you expect when "Bankrupt" Ben Tafoya has any say in financial decisions ? He has no fiscal sense at all. Total loser. If Tafoya bought a funeral home people would stop dying.
Rob June 21, 2012 at 03:09 PM
This is a criminal act. That's an extra $5k+ a year for the rest of his life that us taxpayers will have to come up with. This is why I will never vote for a prop 2 1/2 override, no matter what the reason. Must be nice to work knowing you dont have to save for retirement like us in the private sector.
Rob June 21, 2012 at 03:11 PM
And why would he get severance pay for retiring? I bet he'll collect unemployment too.
Mr White June 21, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Gotta vote these guys out!! Two words - Term Limits!
Dave Miskinis June 21, 2012 at 04:13 PM
The severance is likey tied to his "helping" during the transition, not severance in the true sense.
Fred Van Magness Sr. June 21, 2012 at 04:27 PM
I would not blame Peter for exercising his rights for entitlements in his contract with the Town....approx. $50,000 that was not budgeted for and which the BOS must now find the money to fund. What is wrong here is that past Boards of Selectmen (and maybe a couple on the current board) agreed to the terms that are now being implemented. Get over the current situation. However, this presents the current BOS with an opportunity to create a new contract with Peter's replacement that: 1. Has Zero sick leave or other absence by-back, 2. Very limited vacation rollover provisions, and 3. Zero separation allowances or retirement allowances. Remember, there are two other Executive contracts in the town...Schools and RMLD, which may also have special stuff imbedded therein as well. I still do not see the needs for any of these type contracts...these people ( and they do a good job for the town) should be employees at will, just like industry. But in the end, the marketplace will dictate just how flexible or firm we can be.
Joe Veno June 21, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Rob, If he retires from the town he can not collect unemployment. He is in the Towns Retirement system.
Joe Veno June 21, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Rob, Where do you get your figures from? $5000 a year for the rest of his life? Also he has saved for his retirement. He is in the Reading Retirement system and a % of his pay went to his retirement every week.
peter lucci June 21, 2012 at 07:06 PM
So the current BoS (minus Mr. Arena) had recently voted against giving the TM a raise that would have put him at $140,000 but instead voted to give him a 2% increase to $135,375. Now a couple of short months later (after Town Meeting approved the $135,375 salary), the 3 out of the 5 Selectmen (the other 2:one retired & one was a no-show at this particular meeting) who voted against the $140,000 have flipped their votes. What a travesty, we can only hope that at the November Subsequent Town Meeting, that our elected Town Meeting members vote against this backdoor increase. Their justification for their change of heart is deeply flawed, to say the least. Like Mr. White stated above: "gotta vote these guys out!!"
Rob June 21, 2012 at 07:32 PM
I assume his pension is based on his salary. 80% of a 5% raise gets you there.
Joe Veno June 21, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Weather you are in favor of this or against this. Here lies the problem with represanative town meeting. This will breeze right through town meeting. I am not speaking for or aginst this issue.
peter lucci June 22, 2012 at 01:26 AM
I don't blame you for not speaking for or aginst this issue, Joe, I would take that exact same stance if I were in your shoes. And you are correct, it will breeze right through town meeting.
Barry Berman June 22, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Many of the above comments make reference to the efficiencies of the private sector. Name one corporate CEO who commands hundreds of employees providing vital public services, balances an 85m budget, operates in an ever changing regulatory environment, works in the fishbowl of public scrutiny and earns $140k per year with NO PERFORMANCE BONUS? Give up? There aren't any. Peter is retiring after 26 years of service. Reading is the envy of many for our well managed fiscal affairs. Did the BOS have to give him a raise? No. Did the TM demand it? No. But from a grateful Town to a dedicated public servant, it was the right thing to do. When CEO's get millions in bonuses after their companies lose money, betray the public trust and ruin the economy, how do you begrudge this small token?
Rob June 22, 2012 at 10:14 AM
Reading is going downhill fast. Sacrificing the small town feel for the fast cash from all of these massive housing projects is something Reading will never recover from.
peter lucci June 22, 2012 at 12:23 PM
I would have expected better from a current member of the Reading Finance Committee. If I recall, you are the first one to shoot down any and all comparisons between the public and private sectors (see: previous debates with K Weld), apples and oranges. Peter knew what he was getting into when he took the job in '86, all of the benefits or lack there of were spelled out. He has been doing a fine job for 26 years and he has been receiving a very generous compensation package for the entire 26 years. The BoS blew this one and we all know it.
Armard Goldman June 22, 2012 at 12:52 PM
And lets not forget what Peter cost the tax payers of Reading with one formerand current female firefighter. The first one got her retirement pushed throughafter her resignation because some genius at town hall did not do the correct paper work The second got a 44K pay out from the town and has a private agreement with the town on her working conditions. This is a violation of the contract with the Fire Dept. Should I continue. Peter dont let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
Lenny Redfern June 22, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Now that we are on the subject of Peter's foul-ups with the Females at the fire dept. Has anyone looked at the cost of litigation from the 44k payout....The town spent over 300k in lawyers bills from this ridiculous lawsuit. And now this same female firefighter is out on a supposed line of duty injury .
Dave Miskinis June 22, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Barry, come on now. Peter does not comand hundreds of employees. He's got the police chief, fire chief, school superintendent, etc etc and he doesn't even command them for crying out loud. He does not provide public services. He must have been pretty happy to have stayed with it for 26 years at his "paltry" salary. He's a town manager for god's sake, not a CEO.
Barry Berman June 23, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Although my comment was made as a private citizen, it is from my seat on Finance Committee that I can appreciate how well run our finances are compared to those around us. These stories always bring out those with an axe to grind or a bone to pick. For the same reason that Town Meeting voted a few years ago to continue the salary of a police officer serving in Iraq, Town Meeting should support this motion. File it under heartfelt thanks from a grateful Community.
peter lucci June 23, 2012 at 02:51 PM
I have no axe to grind or bone to pick re: our Town Manager or BoS, I just feel that this was a very bad decision made by our BoS, plain and simple. And to relate this to TM's decision to continue paying our police officer who was serving in Iraq is probably the most ridiculous analogy that I have ever read on these blogs.
Joe Veno June 23, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Barry I believe town meeting approved paying the difference in the Officers salary serving in the Mliitary and the Police salary. Correct me if I am wrong. Are you saying you do not agree with the town doing this?
Barry Berman June 24, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Joe, you are correct. TM picked up the difference (which was substantial). I did agree and voted for the motion. My point in relating it to the Town Manager issue is sometimes we are asked to go beyond what is required because it is the right thing to do. In both cases the Town would be completely justified and within its rights to stand pat. In the case of the officer, TM expressed the support and thanks of the entire town for his sacrifice and service. While fighting for us he knew we "had his back". In Peter's case it is a special thank you for 26 years of service. As the only Manager the Town has had he has set he bar high for future Managers. There is always (and should be) a greater scrutiny when one is paid from the public coffers. But it shouldn't disqualify us from the ability in unique situations to do what is right.
Joe Veno June 24, 2012 at 03:04 PM
Barry I agree. I am not for or against Peter getting this. I say good luck to him for getting all he can from the town. Although Peter and I did not agree on several issuers I will say this. He is one of the hardest working town managers I have ever worked with and I have worked with several of them on the Job and off the job.I do have one question though. If I am remembering correctly did town meeting vote several years ago to give Peter $100,000 dollars when he retired? And if they did is that still in place?
Dave Miskinis June 25, 2012 at 12:06 PM
Barry, I am sure you are a well-intentioned fellow, but I am very nervous how you are making broad-based comments about what the town is doing financially, like continuing the salary for an officer while in Iraq, when in fact, as Joe stated, the town payed the gap in salary. Look what happened to Curt Shilling when he decided to do the right thing by paying moving costs for all his employees and by paying mortgages as well. Out of business. Did the finance committee throw a bone to Mr. Davidson (retiring after so many years) or the A.D. (retiring after so many years with so much success) or for that matter, for any other long term town employee. If the TM was fairly paid, and I'm reading he was, why throw more money at him, or at anyone for that matter. Don't forget, you are spending other people's money so please be very careful with your "generosity." Joe, I have never heard of the $100,000 payout. Please see your question through....and thanks.
Len Redfern June 25, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Hi All---my name is Lenny Redfern, former Fire Chief. i now live in New hampshire and occasionally check out the PATCH. I have never posted before, have no intention of ever posting. I simply no longer have a dog in any fight--I AM HAPPILY RETIRED. I notice that someone posted and used my name . Probably a F.D. member biy the tone of it (coward!). This is my first and last post to the patch. I would ask the moderator to discount any further posts using my name--THANK YOU.
Len Redfern June 25, 2012 at 04:00 PM
11:49 am on Monday, June 25, 2012 Hi All---my name is Lenny Redfern, former Fire Chief. i now live in New hampshire and occasionally check out the PATCH. I have never posted before, have no intention of ever posting. I simply no longer have a dog in any fight--I AM HAPPILY RETIRED. I notice that someone posted and used my name . Probably a F.D. member by the tone of it (coward!). This is my first and last post to the Patch. I would ask the moderator to discount any further posts using my name--THANK YOU. Reply
Burt Reynolds June 25, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Reading's dirty little secret! Sssshhhhh let's not talk about it it will hurt our community's reputation!!!!

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