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.”