RINDGE — Tensions were high at a meeting of the town’s board of selectmen Wednesday night as officials and residents discussed the board’s recent vote not to renew the town administrator’s contract when it expires next month.
Minutes from a July 3 nonpublic session, which were not sealed following the session and were provided by the town office, indicate that the board voted 2-1 not to renew Town Administrator Joe Byk’s contract, with Chairman Robert Hamilton being the lone dissenter. Roberta Oeser made the motion, and Karl Pruter seconded, according to the minutes.
Byk is a former longtime Peterborough selectman and has been the town administrator in Rindge for three years.
When the board met again Wednesday, several town residents — including the board’s chairman — expressed concern about the matter, according to a video of the meeting posted on the town’s YouTube account.
Hamilton read a letter at the beginning of the meeting stating that he was not given advance notice of the nonpublic session and that he felt its outcome was “predetermined.”
“Joe, despite being harangued, harassed, humiliated, berated, belittled and badgered, you have shown commitment, integrity, fortitude and extreme patience while continuing to perform your duties,” he said at the meeting. “Apparently, my thoughts are not shared, so this is my personal thanks to you, Joe, and my best wishes for a more serene future.”
Hamilton’s comments were met with applause from some attendees.
“I appreciate your support, and I want to say that it’s been a pleasure meeting folks and working with you,” Byk responded. “I thank you for the opportunity to serve.”
Byk was not reachable for further comment Thursday.
According to the video, Oeser said at the meeting she felt she had a right to respond to “accusations” and told Hamilton that Pruter was also unaware that a nonpublic session would be called.
“You were derelict in your duty in not calling a meeting for the purpose of discussing Joe’s contract at least a month ago,” she said.
Reached late Thursday morning, Oeser said she would not be available to speak until later in the afternoon, but was not reachable when a Sentinel reporter called several hours later.
Over about a half an hour, several town residents at Wednesday’s meeting spoke in support of Byk, thanking him for his service to the town and describing him as “extremely effective,” “decent” and “knowledgeable.” One woman questioned why the board would choose not to retain an employee who wants to stay, according to the video.
“I can recall, not that long ago, when I could come to the selectmen’s meeting, all I heard was, why is this person leaving, why is that person leaving? And now, we have people that are willing to stay, we have people that are doing a good job. And as the cliché goes, they know the ropes,” she said. “They know the laws, they know the policies, they know procedures.”
Several high-ranking officials have left Rindge in recent years, including two previous town administrators and a police chief.
After another woman asked whether the selectmen understood Byk’s impact on the town, Pruter spoke for the first time.
“I’ve heard a lot of comments positively about Joe, and I agree with many and most of them. I don’t want to basically do a job review in public; it’s not fair to Joe. I applaud those who are speaking for him. I think your remarks are wonderful, and Joe has done some great things,” Pruter said. “That’s all I can really say at this point.”
Pruter was not reachable for further comment Thursday.
Hamilton said he could not provide additional information about the nonpublic session beyond what was included in the meeting minutes, but said he felt Byk’s contract should have been renewed.
“I’ve been very happy with his work. I think things have gone well,” he said. “I haven’t had any complaints.”
When asked who he was referring to when he said that Byk had been “harassed,” Hamilton responded, “The person I’m referring to knows who it is.”
During another nonpublic session Wednesday night, Byk agreed to stay on until the end of August past the expiration of his contract Aug. 7, Hamilton said Thursday. Minutes from the session indicate he will continue to receive the same pay for that month. Byk’s salary is $52,000 a year for 30 hours of work per week with about two weeks of vacation time, according to Hamilton.
The town is in the process of searching for a replacement and will post the job on several online platforms, Hamilton said.