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ROCHESTER SELECTMEN'S MEETING

Rochester Hires New Town Administrator

Rochester Board of Selectmen

By Jean Perry

The Rochester Board of Selectmen has found its new town administrator, and selectmen didn't have to look very far to find her.

Suzanne Szyndlar, the current part-time town accountant for the Towns of Rochester and Mattapoisett, will assume the full-time position as the town's first female town administrator since the position was established.

"The Board of Selectmen is pleased to be able to announce that we have found our new town administrator," said Selectmen Chairman Naida Parker on May 23. "The position is going to be chief financial officer/town administrator."

The position was offered to Szyndlar on a six-month trial basis to ensure both parties, Szyndlar and the town, were content with the arrangement.

"Everybody is very excited about the idea and she is warming up to it," Parker said. "She wasn't quite certain in the beginning ... but she was getting more enthusiastic about it."

Parker said Szyndlar would likely be an asset to the town, given her prior knowledge of all aspects of town finance, including the budget.

"Suzanne brings full financial knowledge of the town to the table, and she'll be a fantastic town administrator," said Parker. "She will have the knowledge ... of how the money is being spent, and she will be able to pick up the other administrative duties on the town administrator side."

Szyndlar will leave her position as town accountant for the Town of Mattapoisett before starting full-time at Rochester Town Hall on July 1.

"She's the first [Rochester] resident and first woman out of our town administrators, so I'm very excited and very pleased about that," said Parker.

"We are very excited about that," Selectman Bradford Morse added.

Also during the meeting, during review of the Annual Town Meeting Warrant, two members of the Board of Assessors and one town employee of the Highway Department and Fire Department challenged warrant article No. 14 that would amend the Personnel Bylaw to abolish the employment practice of sick leave buyback for all town employees, current and new; however, the amendment would not affect current contractual employees of the Police and School Departments.

Not fair, cried the town employees.

Selectmen said the financial liability is too much for the town to handle, suggesting that if the amendment is not made, the town would have to seek a Proposition 2½ override to continue to fund sick leave buyback.

Town employee Harrison Harding, who is also a non-voting member of the Personnel Board, said the article amendment was not brought before the Personnel Board for discussion, which it should have been.

"It never got discussed," said Harding. "There were some things that were supposed to be talked about, but the people who should've been talking about it weren't there." He continued, "It wasn't other people's places to be talking about it."

Harding said this was the first time he had heard anything about the warrant article.

Selectmen and Town Counsel Blair Bailey could not explain why it was never brought to the Personnel Board's attention, assuming that perhaps the miscommunication occurred with the relatively abrupt departure of former Town Administrator Michael McCue.

Board of Assessors member Diana Knapp told selectmen, "It's basically saying, 'We don't support low-level employees'."

"I have been here 12 years doing this, and I have listened [to the] employees' complaints a number of times that the contract employees have better benefits than them," said Bailey. "So now the selectmen are taking away something from the contract employees from across the board and want to take it away from the bylaw employees to be fair..." Bailey continued, "I get it, it's a no-win situation as far as the selectmen are concerned."

Knapp told selectmen there must be a number of other alternatives to ease the financial liability to the town other than cut out sick leave buyback.

"Kind of the problem is," said Harding, "the articles just come up and 'bang,' hit the agenda and there's kind of no discussion ... to see if there's any kind of ... way of working with you."

Harding said he is not a contract employee and he is not concerned with what benefits contract employees enjoy.

"But they've had it for a long time and now you're pulling it out from under them," Harding said.

Parker said this debate will likely hit the Town Meeting floor on June 13, but Harding argued that earlier discussions could avoid lengthy town meeting discussions.

Parker said anyone was welcome to motion to postpone the article at Town Meeting, but the article remains on the warrant.

"[Buyback] has to come out unless we want to pass an override to fund it," said Parker, "and that will be the will of Town Meeting."

The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for June 6 at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

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