Council Decision On Mr. Klimm’s Contract Draws Strong Reactions
By: James Kinsella
Last week, the Barnstable Town Council addressed the issue of the town manager.
On July 14, town residents likely will address the issue of the town council.
Ralph F. Cahoon, a retired police officer and former chairman of the Barnstable School Committee, has sent out an e-mail urging residents to make their views on the council known on July 14, the date of the next council meeting.
“Let’s make sure our town council knows we’re fed up with its embarrassing behavior,” he wrote in the e-mail.
“Show up [and] speak up if you like, send an email, or make a phone call, but let our ‘leaders’ know we’ve all had enough on July 14th,” Mr. Cahoon wrote.
He and a number of other residents were taken aback by the June 23 town council meeting, during which the council voted 6-5 to offer Mr. Klimm, the town manager since 1999, an early departure from his contract.
The council voted 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, 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 council offered Mr. Klimm an early departure: the early departure agreement stipulates that there is “no cause for discipline, suspension, removal or termination of the town manager.”
Mr. Klimm said yesterday that he has not yet signed or decided whether to sign the early departure contract. Immediately following the June 23 meeting, however, he told reporters he suspected he would sign it.
At present, he said, the proposed contract is making the rounds of required signatories, such as Barnstable Town Attorney Ruth J. Weil, for their review.
When that review is finished, Mr. Klimm said, the contract will go to his own attorneys for their review and to him for his decision.
Mr. Klimm said he has been overwhelmed with expressions of support from residents of the town.
He also said he has been saddened by some of the innuendo coming from several councilors on the contract issue, though he declined to specify the details of that innuendo.
The contract negotiations with Mr. Klimm were negotiated in executive sessions on June 16 and again during the meeting of June 23. The executive sessions are allowed under the state Open Meeting Law.
“A contract of this magnitude should have been done in the light of day,” said Frederick Chirigotis, president of the town council.
Though tensions between the council and Mr. Klimm apparently have been brewing behind the scenes since at least late last fall, the abruptness of the proposed contract change took some residents by surprise.
Al Baker of Marstons Mills also questioned the behind-the-scenes moves to push Mr. Klimm out the door, and then pay him a quarter of a million dollars at a time when the town is trying to pinch pennies.
He criticized town councilors for being selfish in thinking of themselves ahead of the interests of the town.
In a group e-mail, Alan Burt of Hyannis called the June 23 meeting “a very sad moment for the Barnstable Town Council.
“John Klimm deserves the highest praise and should not be put in such a terrible situation,” Mr. Burt wrote. “Our town council is in serious trouble as there is such disharmony between the councilors.”
“I think it’s about power and control,” said Meg Loughran of West Barnstable about the current tumult.
Her request at the June 23 meeting that each councilor voting for the early departure of Mr. Klimm give one specific reason for his or her vote went mostly unheeded, though Councilor John T. Norman of Marstons Mills did say Mr. Klimm had grown “tired” in the job.
Playing a large role in the current turmoil, she suspects, is the outcome of last fall’s election of town council officers, along with the such issues as the long-running battle over the Craigville Beach District of Critical Planning Concern.
Speaking of the June 23 meeting, resident Robert Ciolek of Centerville said, “It was interesting, I’ll say that. Part of me has not made up my mind about what I really thought about it.”
Mr. Ciolek said he did have questions in his mind about the process that was used regarding the proposed contract, both in the use of executive sessions and the abruptness of the offer.
At the June 23 meeting, town Councilors Ann B. Canedy of Cummaquid, James H. Crocker Jr. of Osterville, Henry C. Farnham of West Barnstable, J. Gregory Milne of Hyannis, James F. Munafo Jr. of Hyannis and John T. Norman of Marstons Mills voted in favor of the early departure contract.
Voting no were Mr. Chirigotis, council Vice President Janice L. Barton of Marstons Mills and Councilors Richard G. Barry of Cotuit, Debra S. Dagwan of Hyannis and Thomas R. Rugo of Centerville.
Councilors Janet Joakim of Centerville and James M. Tinsley of Hyannis did not attend the June 23 meeting.
Mr. Farnham said he has heard from a few constituents.
Some, he said, were wondering what was going on, thinking that everything was okay with the town. Others, like Mr. Farnham, himself, said they believed the time had come for a change in the town manager position.
“I believe firmly in term limits,” Mr. Farnham said. “A person has a tendency to get stale.”
Although he said Mr. Klimm had accomplished a lot in his tenure as town manager, Mr. Farnham also said that a new leader brings new energy and new thoughts.
Should Mr. Klimm move on, Mr. Farnham said, he thinks there is a “very realistic opportunity” that the town will be able to attract a town manager equal to or better than Mr. Klimm.
He said Barnstable is a large, conservatively run town with a lot of infrastructure, an entity that would draw qualified, interesting candidates.
Speaking of the town council and its relationship with a new town manager, Mr. Farnham said, “we’re not trying to run the town.”
But he said the councilors would want to be able to sit down and share their thoughts with a town manager.
Mr. Farnham said he also would be looking for a town manager who is an excellent communicator. “I want to know what’s going on [in the town]”, he said.
Mr. Munafo said he had not heard from any of his constituents on the issue. Before he comments on the early departure, he said, other, unspecified issues need to be cleared up.
The councilor did say he found no joy in any of what transpired, and he wonders what the future will hold.
Mr. Chirigotis, speaking of his constituents, said, “I have not heard anyone who is happy over the decision, or the way it played out.”
People are asking him what they can do. He is telling them to speak out, and to vote. Seven of the 13 council seats come up for election this November.
“We need to have open government, not government by conspiracy in back rooms,” he said. “This is politics,” Mr. Chirigotis said. “This has nothing to do with the operation of the town.”
Ralph Cahoon, who is calling on residents to make their views heard on July 14, said he believes the way that Mr. Klimm’s latest contract negotiations were handled by the town council was “embarrassing.”
“People in this community deserve better,” Mr. Cahoon said. “Right now, it’s a three-ring circus up there.”
Over the years, he said, he served on committees where he disagreed with or even did not like some of his fellow members, but he said members of those committees always conducted themselves professionally.
But at present, he said, the town council business “is so tainted with politics and personalities and agenda, people trying to do secret cabals to move their pet projects through… it’s like the worst kind of novel about Boston politics. That’s not how we should be doing business down here.”
Mr. Klimm, who was born and raised in Barnstable, has a long track record of service to the town. While in college, he served as an elected town meeting member. In 1981, he said, at the age of 25, he became the youngest selectman ever elected in the town.
He served as selectman until 1987, when he became regional director of the Massachusetts Housing Partnership. In 1991, he was elected to the state House of Representatives, where he represented Barnstable constituents until 1998.
He then worked at the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce until late 1999, when he was appointed Barnstable Town Manager.
In the June 24 edition of Mr. Klimm’s weekly e-mail newsletter, he wrote, “At the Thursday town council meeting, the council supported a change in my contract to have me leave this position on September 30th.
“I knew from the day I took the job of town manager there was a limit to my tenure. I have enjoyed the last 12 years as your town manager serving in the very town in which I was born and raised.
“I do not know how to thank a staff that is second to none or so many of you who continue to volunteer your time and energy to Barnstable,” he wrote. “I am proud of Barnstable and all that has been accomplished over the years. I remain confident that our town employees and our residents will continue to push forward and accomplish great things in the years to come.”