By Jonathan Phelps
---- — WENHAM — Selectmen have voted to extend the contract of Town Administrator Mark Andrews, despite a resident petition calling for a search committee to be formed immediately.
Fire Chief Bob Blanchard was unanimously offered a new contract at the same meeting on Tuesday, boosting his schedule from 30 hours a week to full time.
Andrews, the former Wareham town administrator, was hired on an interim basis to replace outgoing Town Administrator Jeff Chelgren, who was hired in Marblehead. The contract extension drops his “interim” title, said board Chairman Ken Whittaker.
Andrews will continue to be paid a $100,000 salary, with opportunities for a bonus.
“I am proud to serve the town of Wenham and continue my professional service in a very important role,” Andrews said.
Whittaker said the board will continue to move forward with a town administrator search, as promised after Chelgren left.
“The thinking was we wanted to get through the budget season and Town Meeting and have ample time to form that search committee and deliberately go through that process to find a permanent replacement,” Whittaker said.
The contract was approved by Whittaker and Selectman Patrick Wilson, with newly elected Selectman Jack Wilhelm abstaining.
Wilhelm said he abstained because the decision to extend Andrews’ contract was voted on before he joined the board.
Resident Patrick Waddel presented selectmen with a petition from 66 residents asking the board to start the search for a town administrator instead of extending Andrews’ contract by a year. The petition called for a permanent town administrator to be hired by Oct. 1.
“Form a search committee now and abandon this proposal,” Waddel urged selectmen at the meeting. “Wenham needs stability, transparency, and it needs it now.”
He said selectmen had promised a search committee would be formed in the late summer or fall of 2012.
“One year later there has been no search committee,” Waddel said. “Other towns have recently conducted successful searches and had many candidates.”
Wilson justified the decision to extend Andrews’ contract at the meeting.
“We’ve had a lot of transitions in a lot of key positions this year,” Patrick said. “And I think we are doing our level-headed best to work through those transitions. And I believe Mark has been very instrumental in helping us to iron out some of the bumps we’ve encountered.”
Sgt. Jon Gray, president of the Wenham Police Benevolent Association, said his union members asked him to be at the meeting to speak in favor of Andrews’ contract extension.
“Mr. Andrews is a straight shooter,” Gray said. “As president of the union I have the opportunity to deal with him on a regular basis. I can honestly tell you that he runs his office with an open-door policy and he keeps his communication line open, which is key to a successful administration … I think it is refreshing to have a true gentleman in the corner office at Town Hall.”
As full-time fire chief, Blanchard will make $92,000. The fire study group had recommended his hours be increased; they’ve also called for another full-time firefighter to be hired.
“After many months of deliberation and consideration of all the alternatives, it was decided that it simply made very good sense to expand the role of our current fire Chief Bob Blanchard to full time,” Whittaker said.