In a bitter session last night, the Barnstable Town Council voted to offer Barnstable Town Manager John C. Klimm an early end to his five-year contract.
The council voted 6-5 to move up the ending date of the contract from June 30, 2015, to December 15 of this year. The council further offered to place Mr. Klimm, who is paid $148,000 a year and who has served as the town manager since 1999, on leave starting September 30.
The council, however, offered to pay Mr. Klimm his salary through March 2013, which translates into an estimated payout of more than $230,000. The total cost of the package was not available last night.
The town also would offer Mr. Klimm health insurance coverage through March 2013, and entitle him to apply for unemployment compensation after that month.
The proposed agreement for early departure specifies that there is “no cause for discipline, suspension, removal or termination of the town manager” at the time of the agreement.
Late last night, following a session of the deeply split council, Mr. Klimm said he suspected he would sign the agreement. He said he no longer wanted to work with the council in such a toxic environment.
“I’m tired of the turmoil,” Mr. Klimm told a group of reporters gathered for an impromptu press conference in his office. As of 8:30 this morning, Mr. Klimm said he had not signed the agreement. “I’ve made no decision on it as yet,” he said.
The offer comes less than a year after the longtime town manager received an outstanding evaluation for his 2010 town manager performance.
On a scale where 1 equals a failure to meet expectations and 5 equals exceeding expectations, Mr. Klimm received an overall evaluation of 4.45, according to a summary of his 2010 Town Manager Performance Evaluation provided to reporters.
"I am both saddened and disappointed by the actions of the town council this evening."
- John C. Klimm, Town Manager
The reason for the vote for early retirement was not clear.
Councilor John T. Norman of Marstons Mills, the only member of the majority to speak to the matter from the dais in open session, said he believed Mr. Klimm had grown tired in the job. He compared him to a fast-ball pitcher who once threw 94 or 95 miles per hour, but now was throwing only 89.
Another councilor who voted in favor of the early departure, Ann B. Canedy of Cummaquid, said after the meeting, “It’s time for a change. It’s as simple as that.
“A manager works as an employee,” Ms. Canedy said. “He’s not elected, and should work for the council as a whole.”
Councilor James H. Crocker Jr. of Osterville declined to explain why he voted for an early departure.
“It’s personnel matters,” Mr. Crocker said following the meeting. “I don’t discuss personnel matters.”
On the council’s roll call on whether to offer Mr. Klimm the early departure, Mr. Norman, Ms. Canedy, Mr. Crocker, Henry C. Farnham of West Barnstable, and J. Gregory Milne and James F. Munafo Jr. of Hyannis voted yes.
Council president Frederick Chirigotis of Centerville, vice president Janice L. Barton of Marstons Mills, and councilors Richard G. Barry of Cotuit, Debra S. Dagwan of Hyannis and Thomas Rugo of Centerville voted no.
Councilors Janet S. Joakim of Centerville and James M. Tinsley Jr. of Hyannis did not attend last night’s meeting, a special meeting that was posted earlier in the week.
Two potential windows into the councilors’ mindset for pursuing the early departure were closed when two sets of executive session minutes—one from a subcommittee that met June 15 to discuss contract negotiations with the town manager, one from a full council meeting June 16 to discuss the same matter—were reviewed last night respectively by the subcommittee and full council, but not released.
Councilors who opposed the early departure offer decried the move and its possible ramifications for the town.
“There is no one who has had a single criticism that rises to the level of getting rid of the town manager,” said Mr. Chirigotis, who praised Mr. Klimm’s financial management of the town. “I can’t support this tonight. I refuse to. This is not good business.”
Mr. Chirigotis questioned who the town would be able to attract to the town manager’s job, given what has happened to Mr. Klimm, whose job performance he compared to Super Bowl champion coach Bill Belichick.
But a motion offered by Mr. Chirigotis to table the early-departure offer, apologize to Mr. Klimm, and move on, failed.
Ms. Dagwan said, “All I’ve heard is there needs to be a change. I feel there needs to be a rationale for a change. Taxpayers need an answer.”
In the most recent contract negotiations, Mr. Rugo said, 12 of 13 councilors voted to extend Mr. Klimm’s contract another five years.
Now, he said, the town will face the burden of a “golden parachute” for Mr. Klimm while others take over the management of the town.
“This is outrageous,” he said. As an example of the cost to taxpayers he estimated that the taxes of 133 homeowners would be going just to pay for Mr. Klimm’s departure.
As for the talented management team that councilors on both sides of the issue said that Mr. Klimm had assembled, Mr. Rugo said, “If he’s gone, they may be gone, too.”
Mr. Barry, who is stepping down in November as he reaches his term limit, said he is glad to be going.
“I want no part of this,” he said. “It’s terrible.”
At the end of the meeting, as he left the dais, he faulted the councilors, save Mr. Norman, who did not speak in open session for their rationale for a change.
“Why don’t you talk about procedure?” he asked them. “Why don’t you speak about the rationale for a change?”
Ms. Barton called Mr. Klimm “someone who deserves so much better.”
“This is huge,” she said. “People need to know what is happening in our town.”
A number of residents, some of them former town councilors, also rose to speak for Mr. Klimm. No one rose to speak against him.
Citizen Susan Rohrbach of Centerville, who is a current legislative aide to state Senator Dan Wolf (D-Harwich) said she was appalled by the decision, which she called financially foolish. “I see no reasons for this,” Ms. Rohrbach said.
Mimi McConnell of Cotuit said she also was appalled, as well as puzzled and disturbed.
Addressing the council, she said she was disheartened at its lack of cooperation, disappointed over its lack of mutual respect, and dismayed at its failure to find common ground.
In a prepared statement released last night, Mr. Klimm stated, “I am both saddened and disappointed by the actions of the town council this evening. It has been an extraordinary honor and pleasure for me to manage the very town in which I was born and raised. I love this town and have been blessed for 12 years to serve with an extraordinary group of town employees who care so deeply for this community and have accomplished so much…
“I have been involved in politics in some way, shape or form for over 30 years and I understand that, at times, it can get ugly,” he stated. “I have no interest in being involved in an ongoing political battle and have been blessed with a positive and optimistic outlook over my entire life. There has been a toxic environment that has permeated this town since November which has made it difficult to move forward.
“I will take my leave tonight with a strong sense of pride in having met the challenges of this town, in having a management team that will continue to work to meet those challenges, and a group of the finest volunteers and fellow citizens, who are serving Barnstable so well,” he stated.