Wareham selectmen fire town administrator

Ryan Richardson

Selectmen voted 4 to 1 to fire Town Administrator John McAuliffe at the tail of their June 17 meeting.

The announcement was made at midnight, and was not listed on the agenda of the regularly scheduled selectmen’s meeting. which began at 7 p.m. Few members of the public were present for the late night announcement.

Board members cited a deteriorating relationship with the administrator, as well as a laundry list of violations of his contract and position. Selectman Brenda Eckstrom tabled the resolution to fire the town administrator after the board voted, 4 to 1, to retain special counsel Steve Torres of Taunton to represent the town in the separation.

“It is blatantly clear to me that there is an irreparable, serious breach in our relationship,” Selectman Bruce Sauvageau said.

During her reading of the resolution, Eckstrom made note of several outstanding issues between the board and the administrator including the elimination of the sewer administrative fee as well as a general failure to provide information in a timely fashion to selectmen.

In addition to his failure to follow through on policy put forward by the board, Eckstrom noted several breaches of the administrator’s contract including his failure to move to the town of Wareham within the allotted nine-month time frame, as well as his failure to post a bond satisfactory to the board. McAuliffe resides in Somerset.

According to the town charter, McAuliffe will be placed on administrative leave for several weeks before his final termination. The administrator may request a public hearing on the reasons given for his removal by filing a written request with the board within five days of the adoption of the resolution to terminate his employment. At such a hearing the administrator may be represented by counsel and would be entitled to present evidence and call witnesses.

Selectman James Potter was the only member of the board to vote against the resolution. He admitted that while things were not progressing in Wareham as the board hoped, he felt that the town administrator had now received the message loud and clear. He also noted that with everything in front of the town of Wareham, it wasn’t a prudent time to get rid of the town administrator and start from scratch.

“Were there expectations that have fallen short? I’ll agree, I think there are,” Potter said. “Does the person get the message? I hope so.”

McAuliiffe took over as town administrator in August of 2007, after being hired to replace former Town Administrator Michael Hartman, who also left the town under inauspicious circumstances.

McAuliffe’s tenure in the town of Wareham has been rocky from the beginning, saddled with a town divided by a budget battle in the spring precipitated by another departing town administrator. His initial reception from the board and from the town was warm as he attempted to get his hands around the budget and many of the issues confronting the community.

As the administrator began to find his stride in his office, tensions with the Board of Selectmen began to rise. McAuliffe advocated for time to stabilize services and the budget while selectmen pushed for reorganization of government, including the elimination of the sewer administrative fee. The foundering relationship between the board and the administrator took on a very public tone during the March 11 meeting of the board, where the administrator and Selectman Bruce Sauvageau got into a heated verbal argument over rate sheets and budgeting issues.

Selectman Jane Donahue summarized the problems between selectmen and McAuliffe as an ill fit.

“There’s been a lot of speculation around town about how this arrangement, our relationship with the town administrator and the board of selectmen has been going probably since well before the budget took place. It seems to me that somewhere along the line something in our relationship took a wrong turn,” she said.

Donahue noted that the board’s agenda wasn’t moving forward due in part to resistance from the town administrator.

McAuliffe was silent throughout the discussion, speaking only to note that he would stop in the following morning to clean out his office.