Abington Town Manager John D’Agostino has been given until November to prove to selectmen that he’s worth keeping on in the town’s top position.
The board expected to vote last Wednesday on whether to renew the contract or tell him he is finished when it expires next April. The deliberation was prompted by D’Agostino’s recent announcement that he had applied for a job in Florida. Under his contract, he must get permission from selectmen before seeking employment elsewhere.
After a long discussion and a plea from an apologetic D’Agostino, selectmen postponed the decision to November.
Board chairman Andrew Burbine characterized the postponement as “probation” for D’Agostino, allowing selectmen time to “see how he does.”
D’Agostino was hired by Abington in 2010. He has had some achievements during his tenure, but he has also alienated a number of officials and town employees.
“To his credit, he’s accomplished a lot, but he’s dragged everyone across a bed of coals doing it,” Selectman Kevin Donovan said following Wednesday’s meeting. “I’ve had a lot of very opinionated people call me, and they were not happy with the situation.”
D’Agostino has butted heads with the local Board of Health over trash disposal and was the subject of a unanimous no-confidence vote by the Board of Assessors following a budget dispute.
The town manager recently took on the Board of Selectmen, e-mailing members in April that he had applied for a city manager’s job in Key West, Fla. In the e-mail, D’Agostino said he was “dissatisfied with the situation here at Town Hall for some time” and wanted to determine his worth in the marketplace.
In reaction to the note, selectman Christopher Aiello, now retired from the board, criticized the town manager in a story that ran in the Patriot Ledger and Enterprise newspapers, saying D’Agostino violated his contract by applying for jobs without the permission of selectmen.
Stung by the public criticism, D’Agostino launched a counterattack in the same newspapers. The town manager also fired a letter to selectmen saying he would work until the end of his contract but he wanted their permission to look for employment elsewhere.
In the letter, D’Agostino complained his “hard work, dedication and passion” for the job had “gone unnoticed in the form of compensation.” He was hired at $118,000 annually and had never been given a pay increase.
D’Agostino said he appreciated his time in Abington but recognized “the town cannot afford to compensate me or any other employees” due to lack of revenue.
On Wednesday, an apologetic D’Agostino asked selectmen not to act on his April letter. He submitted a second letter requesting a new three-year contract with the town.
“I can surely say to you I’ve made some mistakes,” he said. “But we’re all human.”
Board members agreed to put off their decision on his future, but also gave him permission to look for employment elsewhere.
D’Agostino said he no longer plans to look for other jobs.
Selectmen expressed frustration Wednesday. “If it wasn’t for his letter to us and his comments to the press in April, we wouldn’t even be talking about his contract,” Burbine said. “My feeling is John has been on probation since then.”
Selectman Kenneth Coyle said he was concerned that D’Agostino had failed to ask the board’s permission to apply for the Florida job and only told them about it after the fact. “If Mr. D’Agostino wants to go somewhere, let him do it,” he said.
Board member Thomas Dion said he was doubtful the town can ultimately meet D’Agostino’s demands. “If he’s looking for more money, I don’t think Abington can afford that,” he said.
Boston labor attorney Paul Hodnett, who was hired by selectmen to review D’Agostino’s contract in May, told board members Wednesday they would be on firm legal ground if they refused to renew the agreement.
Hodnett said D’Agostino, in his opinion, had violated the contract by applying for the job without their permission. Because of the violation, the town would not have to provide D’Agostino with severance pay should selectmen vote not to reappoint him. Under the contract, he would be owed three months’ pay, about $30,000.
Selectmen scheduled their vote on D’Agostino’s contract for their first meeting in November. Under the terms of the agreement, the board can put off a decision on D’Agostino’s future until late December, since he is only owed 120 days’ notice of non-reappointment.
D’Agostino left Mansfield in 2009, when selectmen in that town voted not to reappoint him following civil court action alleging that he had harassed two employees in the Mansfield Municipal Light Department. The jury found in favor of the employees, who were awarded a total of about $2 million in damages.