April 08, 2021LITTLETON — Town officials hosted a public hearing at the Littleton Opera House last Monday to allow resident input about incoming Town Manager Jim Gleason of Winter Garden, Fla. The hearing was scheduled one week after Selectmen opted to cancel a regularly scheduled meeting. It opened with the public announcement that Chad Stearns had resigned from the Select Board.
In a statement read by Board Chair Carrie Gendreau, Stearns said, "On Thursday, March 25, 2021, I offered to resign my position on the Littleton Board of Selectmen. It was an honor to serve my hometown of Littleton and a privilege to work alongside the dedicated public servants on the Board and the employees of the Town. I am convinced that they have always had and will continue to have the best interests of our community at heart, and I wish them nothing but success on the road ahead."
"Upon reflection, I have decided that there are different and better ways for me to serve my community. I look forward to being an advocate for positive changes in our Town and am eager to work with residents, visitors, and the local business, civic, and community leaders to help Littleton continue to be a great place to work, live, and raise a family," continued the statement.
Under New Hampshire state law, Select Board members are allowed to appoint a new resident to fill the seat left vacant by Stearns.
Gendreau stated, "Chad will continue to help with the Littleton Industrial Development Corporation and the River District. We will be making a Selectman selection to fill his position, probably no later than Apr 12 at noon."
Selectmen held the public hearing at the Littleton Opera House in anticipation of a heavy turnout. While many seats remained vacant throughout the hour-long gathering, a handful of residents remained vocal about their opposition to the Select Board's choice for a new Town Manager.
A conditional offer was made to Gleason on March 18, after a careful review of 14 applicants. Gleason's challenging public record as former Mascotte, Fla. Town Manager led Littleton resident and former Select Board candidate Chris Sweeney to immediately launch an online petition against the decision.
The petition was based on unfavorable news articles from Florida. Sweeney presented the petition, which had garnered more than 500 regional signatures in two weeks, to the Select Board at the beginning of last week's public hearing.
When opening the floor for comment, Gendreau outlined guidelines for the meeting.
She stated, "We want to keep it civil and listen respectfully to each other. We want to avoid interrupting and keep comments to a maximum of two minutes. We want to avoid blame and speculation. We want to speak the truth and allow everyone that wants a chance to speak."
Sweeney was the first resident to take the mic. He said he believed the town manager's selection process was inappropriate, secretive, rushed, and lacked transparency.
"Because your process lacked transparency and did not take the community's input, the process failed to enable authentic accountability for our residents. Mr. Gleason is a liability to Littleton, and should not be our new town manager," stated Sweeney.
Residents from old to young challenged the Board's decision to hire Gleason throughout the meeting. Several questioned his absence.
Despite ongoing pressure from several attendees, the Select Board remained firm in their unwillingness to list members of the initial screening committee, citing a non-disclosure agreement as the reason. According to Bratz, the screening committee only reviewed initial applicants and was not part of the final decision-making or hiring process.
"We can tell you that the people on the committee are very well-respected members of the community," noted Gendreau.
Chutters owner Jim Alden presented numerous printed examples of Gleason's public Linked In and Facebook profiles.
He stated, "When you hire someone, you hire their skills and experience, but also their temperament and judgment. These public posts do not show the appropriate temperament or judgment for the next town manager."
Porfido's owner and lifetime Littleton resident Frank Porfido, Jr. was the only attendee to vocalize support of the Board's nomination, saying he trusted their decision as elected leaders.
"I've followed this thing pretty closely, and I'm just a little bit taken aback by my fellow residents. Who here in this room — please raise your hand for me — hasn't screwed up? Nobody's raising their hand," said Porfido.
While referring to the Selectmen, Porfido said, "I do trust these guys, and I think the Town should trust them too. I know from being an employer that some of the best employees I've had had baggage. They also came with some awfully good things. These guys were dragged through the mud on this and we lost Chad, which doesn't make me happy."
Several residents vocalized their disappointment that Gleason was not present at the hearing. Bratz said Gleason was unable to attend the hearing because he was scheduled for a COVID vaccine in Florida the same day. However, Gendreau said an open house would be scheduled upon his arrival so Littleton residents could meet him and ask questions directly.
Gleason's position comes with a probationary period. Littleton resident Carrie Way inquired about the hiring process. Vice-Chair Emerson said six candidates rose to the top out of a pool of 14 applicants.
"With those six, we did the Google searches and Linked In. We did all of that because nowadays, that's how we find anything about anyone. We were well aware when we went into the interview process with Mr. Gleason, and he offered the information without us asking about it," stated Emerson.
The town official continued, "A lot of people didn't meet the criteria because they didn't have any town manager experience. There's a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, and we need someone to clean it up. Of all the people we looked at, Gleason had the best background to take care of the problems that we have."