During John D’Agostino’s tenure as Abington town manager, the balance in the town’s stabilization fund grew from $1,000 to $1 million. But despite his expertise with numbers, he’ll be out of a job come April, selectmen said.
The official reason the Board of Selectmen voted 3-to-2 last Monday not to renew D’Agostino’s contract was “malfeasance,” which Selectman Kevin Donovan defined as a “failure to work in harmony and respect with other town committees.”
At that meeting, board vice-chairman Michael Franey offered some defense for D’Agostino, saying he largely got along with town boards, had glowing job performance reviews, and had never received a raise in his $120,000 annual salary. But Franey acknowledged that the town manager had “ruffled the feathers of some boards [and] probably wasn’t a good fit going forward.”
Selectmen have already formed a search committee for a town manager, and Donovan said he expected a successor to be “selected well in advance of April rolling around.”
But selectmen chairman Andrew Burbine said it could take longer, given the impending holidays and the possibility that the incoming town manager may need to finish out a term elsewhere.
D’Agostino would not comment on whether he felt his release was justified. But in an e-mail, D’Agostino said he will remain in his position while considering his options, and remains “deeply proud of the changes accomplished by [his] administration.”
At Monday’s meeting, Burbine, who argued on behalf of renewing D’Agostino’s contract, listed his contributions since taking office in 2010.
Among them were Abington’s improved financial situation; the maneuvering of town funds and manpower to stabilize financially strapped organizations such as recreational fields and the senior center; and working on several initiatives to address mounting ethics complaints against some town employees, commissions, and boards.
Among the ethics questions are allegations that several Conservation Commission members lent out equipment from their companies last spring to help a friend remove trees from land protected by state wetlands law.
The allegations have been looked at since April by the Department of Environmental Protection, the state attorney general’s office, and the state Ethics Commission.
Ethical issues also played a part in a contractual violation by D’Agostino in April, when he applied for the city manager position in Key West, Fla., without first notifying selectmen.
D’Agostino told selectmen he sought the Key West position out of curiosity about his earnings potential. In interviews at that time, however, D’Agostino said that stress over an entrenched ethics issue in the town had also been a factor in his search for another position.
But the broader issue that detracted from D’Agostino’s many strengths was interpersonal difficulties.
Burbine acknowledged that D’Agostino had some personal conflicts and that “some were unnecessary. But some were unavoidable — it’s difficult to bring change.”
After hearing from independent counsel Paul Hodnett that malfeasance was one of the seven possible factors that would entitle selectmen to withhold D’Agostino’s contractual 90-day severance pay,
Donovan moved to not reappoint the town manager because of malfeasance.
Reached for comment about his decision, Donovan said it was largely related to D’Agostino’s sometimes aggressive manner in electronic correspondence. He emphatically added that the pending ethics question did not play a significant role in deciding not to renew the contract.
“I have been watching the e-mail he sends out and how he interacts with different boards and committees. . . [and] at the end of the day, I incorporated in my motion what was represented to me by a number of townspeople and officials who feel that he has done some good things, but he drags people over a hot bed of coals to get there.”
When selectmen met with D’Agostino in June to talk about his application for the Key West job, the town manager received a warning about his e-mail behavior.
According to Donovan, selectmen said they would wipe the slate clean if D’Agostino’s behavior changed.
“He was told we don’t like the e-mail traffic and that he is quick to engage in controversy when he is supposed to solve problems and not create them,” said Donovan.
Selectmen would not comment on whether there were any incidents after June, but in the final vote Monday, Selectmen Kenneth Coyle and Thomas Dion supported Donovan’s move to oppose renewing D’Agostino’s contract and to cite malfeasance.
They were opposed by Burbine, who wanted to renew the contract, and Franey, who did not want to renew the contract but didn’t support the charge of malfeasance. Franey argued that denying severance pay to D’Agostino could open the door to litigation.
D’Agostino would not comment as to whether he might consider litigation.