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New Durham selectmen vote to lay off Whittaker

Jarvis and Bickford cast affirmative votes in decision to terminate Town Administrator

January 13, 2010
NEW DURHAM — Already reeling from Selectman Ron Gehl's decision to resign from the board, New Durham residents were taken aback yet again in the wake of last week's selectmen's meeting when rumors began to circulate that Town Administrator April Whittaker had been laid off.

Gehl, who announced his decision to resign during the selectmen's Jan. 4 meeting (stating that he wanted to devote more time to his family and his business), confirmed during a telephone interview on Jan. 7 that after emerging from a non-public discussion at around 12:40 a.m., the board voted, with himself dissenting, to lay Whittaker off beginning Jan. 15.

While he was legally obligated not to disclose what took place during the non-public session, he said, "I am at liberty to say that I believe it was an incredibly foolish decision."

Pointing to an article in the Jan. 7 edition of Foster's Daily Democrat in which Selectman Dave Bickford cited financial concerns as the reason why he and Selectman Terry Jarvis voted to lay Whittaker off, Gehl explained that the board had voted at an earlier point in the Jan. 4 meeting to keep Whittaker's salary in the proposed 2010 operating budget.

In view of that decision, Gehl said Bickford's comments to Foster's made no sense to him, and suggested that ulterior motives might also have come into play.

In a statement issued on Jan. 8, Jarvis also cited financial concerns as the driving force behind her decision, and hinted that Whittaker herself might have been on board with the idea.

"Throughout this year's budget process, countless questions have been asked and many, many difficult decisions have had to be made," Jarvis wrote. "At this point, we are not yet done with that process.

"Since being elected to the board of selectmen, I have heard from numerous New Durham taxpayers who are struggling in this time of economic uncertainty and are barely able to pay their property tax bills.

"Town Administrator April Whittaker recognized the difficult financial situation we are in. After a lengthy non-public meeting, the content of which -- by law -- cannot be discussed, the decision was made to lay Mrs. Whittaker off, effective [at] the close of business, Jan. 14."

Bickford, she added, "has been charged with investigating sources of part-time administrative support to assist the board of selectmen and the town until after the March town elections, when decisions for a more permanent direction can be carefully made."

Whittaker has been unavailable for comment since the board's decision due to illness, but was expected to return to her office Monday.

The Baysider also learned earlier this week that the selectmen have hired Jeanie Forrester as a part-time interim town administrator through Meredith-based Municipal Resources, Inc.

Forrester brings with her prior experience as Tuftonboro's town administrator, and as the executive director of the Greater Meredith Program, an economic development initiative associated with the NH Main Street program.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

Klumb Environmenta;
Varney Smith
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