The Standish Town Council has renewed Town Manager Gordon Billington’s contract through early 2018, when he is expected to retire.

In a 6-1 vote Tuesday night, the council approved the three-year contract, which includes a new, 12-month guaranteed severance package, as well as protections from council attempts to reduce his salary. Councilor Wayne Newbegin voted against the renewal.

The contract will increase Billington’s 2015 salary of $93,813 each year in accordance with the federal cost of living adjustment.

Although Billington’s previous contracts have typically been approved several weeks or months prior to expiration, this contract renewal came much earlier, given that Billington’s prior contract would have expired in June 2016. Typically, the contracts have included a 90-day severance package and no protections from salary reductions.

On Tuesday night, following a period of public comment during which the contract renewal repeatedly came under fire, Newbegin motioned to table the issue until April. The council voted 6-1 not to table the measure, with only Newbegin in favor.

Billington, 72, who asked for the contract renewal, said he was happy with the outcome.

“I’m very pleased with the vote of confidence from the council,” Billington said.

“I’m very gratified to many of the members of the public who came out and said complimentary things about me personally. That was very nice. Those that don’t care for the contract – it is a changed-term contract – can certainly have their opinions about that. I respect their opinions.”

Last week, Billington said, he had introduced the contract in advance of forthcoming Town Council term limits in order to “give more stability during this period of turmoil.” The term limits will force longtime councilors Phil Pomerleau and Margaret Spencer from the council this summer.

At the meeting, Standish resident Leo Robichaud questioned why the contract renewal must occur prior to the imposition of term limits, which were recently passed by Standish voters. Some residents in attendance wanted the council in charge at the time of Billington’s renewal more than a year from now be the ones to renegotiate the terms.

“You’ve got some sore losers on this council,” Robichaud said. “Now, because of term limits, there may be a concern that, ‘Well, the new council might not vote in favor of what we want to do right now and that’s too bad if that is the case.’ That’s just my opinion. As a citizen speaking for other citizens that I know, let the new council, when it’s elected to commit to this body, let them vote on what happens with the new town manager.”

Others expressed concern about the new severance package provisions in the contract. Apart from the 12-month guaranteed severance package, the new contract protects Billington from council attempts to “reduce the salary, compensation or other benefits of the manager in a greater amount than an applicable across-the-board reduction for all employees.” If such an event occurs, Billington will have the option of terminating his contract, and receiving a 12-month severance package.

While resident Martha Hurd-Call described the contract as an “extravagant golden parachute,” another resident, Izzy Higgins, characterized the provisions as “excessive.”

“We’re looking forward to possible problems with revenue sharing,” Higgins said. “Our property taxes are going to go up. There’s more than this one thing at play here. Quite frankly, we’re living in an era where we all are horrified by what CEOs and people at the top are getting for benefit packages when the rest of us aren’t. If this is as well deserved as it’s made out to be, fine, but give us justification and give us justification why you’re doing it now.”

Other speakers came to the defense of Billington and his contract.

“I think Gordy’s doing a great job,” said resident Claudia Morton. “I do, and I don’t see any big deal about this.”

Peter Arnemann, the Standish tax assessor since 2001, said Billington is a model leader who has kept property taxes low and promoted a harmonious working environment at town hall.

“Before he got here this place was in turmoil,” Arnemann said. “People were being fired, people were quitting, they couldn’t hold onto good people. When I started here there had been no tax assessor for a whole year because of personnel problems. When Gordy came in, he was able to lead us to set the tone here where the whole idea was that we are public servants. We’re all working together for the common good. There’s no infighting here; there’s no bickering; there’s no problems. We’re all working together to do our jobs and be public servants and that’s based solely on his leadership.

“I’ve worked in many towns before here and I’ve been under many town managers,” Arnemann added. “I find that Gordon stands head and shoulders above most of the other managers that I’ve worked with.”

The majority of the council appeared to agree with Arnemann’s assessment.

“The likelihood of this man suddenly harming the town after 14 years is slim to none,” said Councilor Lynn Olson. “He’s a 14-year employee who has made a request. We have taken due consideration of that request and that is why we are here doing this tonight.”

Pomerleau said that the contract, which ensures a smooth pathway to Billington’s retirement, contains similar severance package provisions to neighboring towns such as Casco, Raymond and Gray.

“When we start looking at towns around us, this is a normal contract,” Pomerleau said. “It just says if you’re going to send me packing, I want a severance package. If he does something wrong, he gets nothing.”

On Jan. 13, with three councilors absent due to illness, the Standish Town Council voted 4-0 to approve the contract, which will keep Billington, who has held the position since 2001, on the job through January 2018. Councilors Olson, Pomerleau, Steve Nesbitt and Michael Blanck voted in favor of the contract, while Spencer, Newbegin, and John Sargent were absent.

The vote, however, violated the town’s charter, which requires an affirmative vote from at least five councilors to approve a town manager’s contract. According to Billington, the vote constituted an administrative oversight.

Billington said one of the reasons he submitted the contract a year and a half before expiration is that he hopes to have three years to plan for his expected retirement in 2018. Billington said he also wanted to update the contract’s termination and severance provisions to the standard promoted by the International City/County Management Association.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: