2016-10-07 / Front Page

Town manager resigns

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — After 18 years as town manager of Kennebunk, Barry Tibbetts is calling it a career.

In an email to town employees sent shortly before 1 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3, Tibbetts announced he would not seek to renew his employment contract, set to expire June 30, 2017.

“I have the ability to activate early retirement and can leverage my skills to pursue a number of different options, which I desire to do,” he wrote.

Tibbetts did not say in either the email, or an official press release to the media that followed at 3:15 p.m., what different options he might pursue.

Initially hired as Kennebunk’s tax assessor in September 1993, Tibbetts won the top job at town hall in October 1998. Having spent more than 20 years in municipal service, he is fully vested in the Maine Public Employees Retirement System (MainePERS) and able to retire with full benefits.

Under the terms of Tibbetts’ current contract, the board of selectmen needed to give six months notice, advising him by Jan. 1 if his contract would be renewed. However, with the Jan. 1 deadline approaching, and an annual review to complete, they had taken steps to get the ball rolling on contract talks.

With Tibbetts out of work following hip surgery, selectmen met in executive session Sept. 27 to hammer out a starting position on contract talks.

According to chairman Richard Morin, that meeting was initially going to be a closed-door tete-a-tete with town attorney William Dale to discuss the mechanics of the contract, prior to entering the formal negotiating phase.

However, the motion to go into executive session was changed on the fly at the meeting, from “discuss general terms of a town manager’s contract, as applicable to Kennebunk, with the town attorney,” to, “discuss the terms of the incumbent town manager’s contract, as applicable to Kennebunk, with the town attorney, regarding the terms and conditions of his contract, where public disclosure would unreasonably intrude into his rights to privacy.”

The board also moved to include Finance Director Joel Downs and Human Resources Director Mike Pardue in the executive session.

When reached for comment just after 2 p.m., Monday, Morin said the decision to alter the motion was not a reaction to budget board member John Costin, who argued in a Sept. 22 email to selectmen that a workshop to discuss the general terms of a manager’s contract was not a valid reason under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act to exclude the public.

However, Morin said in a Sept. 25 interview with the Post that certain terms of the contract, such as pay and benefits, might be debated, necessitating the need to close the doors.

“You never want to give your playbook to the opponent,” he said.

However, the purpose of the meeting changed when Tibbetts began sending up signals that he was ready to retire.

According to Morin, between his Sept. 25 interview with the Post and the board meeting on Sept. 27, Tibbetts sent selectmen an email saying that, while at home on the mend, he “had been thinking long and hard,” and “had a lot of things going through my mind.”

According to Morin, Tibbetts wrote that his “inclination” was to not seek renewal of his contract, but that he would discuss things with the board further “after he’d had a chance to talk about it with his wife.”

“So, it wasn’t a this-is-how-it-is thing, it was more of a here’s-what-I’m-thinking thing,” Morin said. “We were kind of caught off guard, as I’m sure the rest of the public was. But I will go to my grave swearing that our intent was to discuss his contract renewal, and the right hand turn we had to take, came very surprisingly.”

Morin said during the executive session, which lasted just under one hour, selectmen discussed in general terms how to proceed if Tibbetts did, in fact, decide to retire, although no decisions were made.

“It was just to plant the seed, so we all had something to talk about going forward, if it all came to fruition,” Morin said. In separate interviews Monday, Selectmen Christopher Cluff and Ed Karytko gave similar accounts of the meeting.

Although Tibbetts has yet to submit a formal resignation letter to selectmen — Morin said, “We’ll be voting on something at our Oct. 11 meeting” — he confirmed in an email to selectmen late last week that he would indeed retire.

Morin said he could not forward any of Tibbetts’ emails to selectmen about his potential retirement, because they had been deleted. Karytko and Cluff also declined to forward them, saying they would be sent by Tibbetts.

“Barry will be sending you those later today,” Cluff said Monday afternoon.

The emails had not arrived by the Post’s Tuesday morning deadline. Meanwhile, Pardue did not return multiple requests made for those messages, as well as copy of Tibbetts’ notice to employees. Cluff did forward that email.

In it, Tibbetts told staffers, “I have always viewed my glass as being half full and I hope that you have been well served by my service. This change will precipitate a new town manager and the board will soon begin that process.

“I have not decided the direction I will travel in the future, but know that I hold all of you in the highest regard,” Tibbetts wrote.

Morin said Tibbetts will work “as much of the day as he can manage” while recovering from hip surgery. However, his is then scheduled to go out for shoulder surgery on Dec. 5.

“I’m told that is a very, very long recovery process, because it’s his dominant arm, so has to be strapped tight, as any movement is detrimental to the recovery process,” Morin said, predicting “an eight-week recovery” time.

Morin said he is uncertain who will fill in for Tibbetts while he is on medical leave, Downs or Pardue. Athough Downs technically holds the duel role of assistant town manager, both Morin and Cluff suggested Pardue might actually be the one to take the reins. That decision may not come under closer to Tibbetts’ surgery date.

“By then the board will have had a chance to put its head together and figure out what its next steps will be,” Morin said.

However, whoever gets the nod may fill in past the end of Tibbett’s tenure, next June. Both Morin and Cluff suggested the board may choose to tap someone to serve as an interim town manager.

“After 19 years, there’s an awful lot of loyalty for Barry, as there should be,” Morin said. “There are fond memories that people will want to hang on to and I don’t think we should try and force anything new on the public until that’s all had a chance to settle down.”

“We’ve talked high level about what to do, but we don’t have anything concrete yet,” Cluff said. “Part of our deliberations will be, do we want a long-term interim for three or four years to keep things afloat, or do we want another visionary who will take us to the moon and back? Those are discussions we’ll have to have as a board, to make sure we’re all on the same page.

“But my personal preference is probably to have someone in that position for a couple of years, to kind of let the Barry dust settle, and then move from there,” Cluff said. “But if we find an amazing candidate, who knows? It’s all up in the air right now.”

Morin and Cluff praised Tibbetts for his 23 years of service to Kennebunk.

“It’s been a privilege to have him with us,” Cluff said. “I think he has done a tremendous amount of work for the town. We’re sad to see him go because he has had such an impact. It will be very difficult to replace him. We’ve got big shoes to fill.”

“This guy worked for the town diligently, without regard to the timeclock. It was amazing,” Morin said. “From the day I was first elected six-plus years ago, it’s been astounding, to keep up with his imagination and vision. I have always said I’d rather have a manager I have to hold back a little bit than one I have to push along, and Barry has never disappointed us in that regard.

“He’s done a lot of great things for the community and he’s served the community very, very, very, very nobly and very well,” Morin said.

“We all respect Barry for what he’s done,” Karytko agreed. “He’s done a lot of good things for the town. I don’t think anyone out there will argue that point. I have questioned a lot of things, but as selectmen that’s our job.”

Still, there was not shortage in recent months of people questioning Tibbetts. Two former selectmen, Rachel Phipps and Kelly Wentworth have both leveled charges of impropriety — Phipps alleging that Tibbetts conspired to keep her from gaining a committee appointment, and Wentworth claiming Tibbetts altered the personnel file of her husband, who works in the town garage. Both have gone on record recently urging selectmen to not renew Tibbetts contract.

“I was on the board of selectmen when Barry Tibbetts was hired as the town manager and worked under him as the Youth Services Coordinator,” Phipps said. “I know that Barry has worked tirelessly for the town of Kennebunk, I have to believe at great personal sacrifice, over these many years. I also see that he has done many good things for the town and I believe his intentions have always been good. However, I believe that the town has not been as transparent and open as I would like, and as is necessary for good government, under his leadership.

“I will always feel that Barry did a great disservice to the most economically disadvantaged members of our community when he restructured town hall and laid off the social service director in 2009, the height of the great recession,” Phipps continued. “Wanda Cannell had served in that capacity for over 20 years and had forged many relationships with both clients and community resources that are essential to support people in times of need. As the Kennebunk/Kennebunkport Youth Services Coordinator and close colleague of Ms. Cannell, I spoke out against this decision at the time and experienced significant retribution from the town manager. More recently, I am disappointed that Barry took no responsibility and made no apology when I made public the details of his manipulation of the appointment process and not following established protocol and policy to determine the size and membership of the economic development committee.

“I thank Barry for his service to the town of Kennebunk and I wish him good health and good luck in all his future endeavors,” Phipps said.

Phipps’ husband, John Costin, also had parting thoughts.

“Mr. Tibbetts expanded the role of town manager well beyond what it had ever been in Kennebunk,” he said. “While his accomplishments are undeniable, some were achieved by circumventing our democratic process and without transparency. Hopefully, we will use his departure as an opportunity to reassess what we want for the town of Kennebunk and how we want its government to function.”

Morin and the other selectmen all agreed that Tibbetts has done much for the town, from beautifying its villages to helping make possible the Waterhouse Center, deemed by many to be the crown jewel of Main Street.

In the official press release announcing Tibbetts’ departure, he was credited with “ushering the town of Kennebunk into the 21st century.” He “developed policies that have spurred economic development creating over 700 jobs, revitalized the downtown and village centers, rebuilt two seawalls protecting the beach area, regionalized dispatch services, consolidated many functions within town government, and has maintained an AAA bond rating through much of the last decade,” it read.

“Highlights of his career span numerous initiatives including the creation of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts throughout the town, the enhancement of town staffing levels to better serve the community, budget surpluses for more than two decades, and [being] a visionary in the fundraising and building of the Waterhouse Center for youth and families. He was also the recipient of the Linc Stackpole Managerof the-Year Award in 2011, an honor conferred by the Maine Town City and County Management Association,” the release read.

“We’re going to try and find someone to replace Barry who can live up to both him and the town itself, frankly,” Morin said.

In that regard, Morin does not think Kennebunk will want for resumes when it comes time to advertise for a new manager.

“We are a very desirable community,” he said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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