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Board defends contract vote for manager Tuesday, February 15, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Selectmen yesterday defended their vote to extend the town manager's contract, saying they acted swiftly to assure that Framingham will not lose a talented manager who was eyeing another job.

Without a new deal, they said, Town Manager George King could have skipped town for a new position just as the annual Town Meeting kicks off in April.  That would have been especially difficult, they said, given that the chief financial officer recently quit.

"If this had come to us six months ago, maybe I wouldn't have felt the same sense of urgency if we had a (chief financial officer) and Town Meeting was eight months away," Selectman Katie Murphy said.

Selectman Esther Hopkins, who called the arrangement "win-win," questioned why the board would have delayed extending the package once it learned that another town was recruiting King.  She said she does not understand "the basis that others think something different should have happened."

"I thought the question was not why do we sign this particular thing at this point.... The question was do we think George's work is the kind of work that is best for this town at this point, and do we want him to continue?" she said.

Selectmen voted 4-1 late Thursday night behind closed doors to extend King's deal to December 2007.  In exchange for the longer deal, King agreed to give 180 days notice if he decides to leave, instead of 60 days, according to draft minutes of the executive session released yesterday.

Selectman Ginger Esty, who voted against the extension, complained yesterday that King used Town Counsel Chris Petrini as his personal lawyer before the meeting when he showed Petrini the memorandum of agreement the board later signed.  Esty called the move a "misuse" of King's power.

"Why wouldn't (Petrini) inform his client, namely the Board of Selectmen, that he had been asked to do this, and why wasn't he there in executive session?" she said.

King acknowledged yesterday that he briefly showed Petrini the one-page agreement he wrote before the meeting.  But the town counsel, he said, has written all the contract amendments he has negotiated with the board during his tenure as town manager.

"I think it's unfortunate that Ginger continues to fight a personal battle and doesn't focus on the issues facing the town," King said.

Petrini confirmed that he briefly reviewed the document and only suggested that "memorandum of agreement" be spelled out in the that space be added for selectmen's signatures.  The town manager, he said, can solicit his advice under the town counsel access policy.

King declined again yesterday to identify the town that was recruiting him and argued the information is not important.  Selectmen have said that not one board member asked him the name of the town during the meeting.

According to a barely audible tape recording of the executive session made available yesterday, King does not reveal the town to the board.  He only tells selectmen that he applied for a position, withdrew his name and was then asked if he would be reconsidered.  He makes clear that he had not yet been offered the job.

"I do not necessarily want to go, but I do appreciate the security it offers," he said.

According to draft minutes of the meeting, King asked the board to consider extending his contract to match what he could get from the competing town.  Chairman Chris Ross and Selectman Charlie Sisitsky raised concerns that Framingham would have difficulty replacing King if he left, according to the minutes.

Ross said yesterday that he believed the job offer to King from the other town was "imminent. " He acknowledged that losing King would have been a strong possibility if the board had not voted Thursday night to extend his contract.

"I think what was best for the town, as I said, was to stabilize the situation, at least for the next couple of years here," he said.

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