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Wayland

Selectmen criticized for firing official

The Wayland Board of Selectmen abruptly fired its long-time town administrator “without cause’’ after a heated discussion last week, prompting residents to inundate selectmen with calls and e-mails expressing outrage over how it was handled.

Fred Turkington, who served as town administrator for eight years, will receive a year’s severance, which amounts to $152,000 in salary plus benefits. Assistant Town Administrator John Senchyshyn was named the interim town administrator.

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“People are upset about how this was handled and want a public dialogue on something so important,’’ said Joseph Nolan, a selectman who voted against the motion to fire Turkington. “Who’s going to work for Wayland now? We shouldn’t be in this position.’’

Selectman Tony Boschetto, who was elected to the board four months ago after campaigning on the need for more government transparency, made an unexpected motion at Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting to fire Turkington, saying it was the “right direction for the town.’’

The motion came up under an agenda item requested by Boschetto titled, “Review town administrator employment agreement and job description.’’

After about 20 minutes of discussion, during which Selectman Steven Correia stormed out of the meeting in frustration, the board voted 3 to 1 to fire Turkington. Boschetto, chairman Douglas Leard, and Edward Collins, all of whom were newly elected this spring, voted in favor. Correia left before the vote.

In an e-mail Tuesday, Boschetto declined to comment, and Leard did not respond to a request for comment.

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In a statement Turkington acknowledged the decision of the board’s majority to fire him immediately. “I accept their collective judgment, although I am disappointed in the manner in which the decision was executed,’’ he said.

“Serving as Wayland’s first administrator after town meeting approved a change in the town’s governing structure, it was necessary to balance my efforts between those clearly uncomfortable with the delegation of administrative responsibility to a professional manager with those who desired organizational changes and service improvements,’’ Turkington added.

“I am confident that I have left the affairs of town government in far better condition than when I began and I am better for the experience,” he said. “While I will continue this work elsewhere, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the citizens of Wayland for nearly eight years. I wish the community well.”

Correia and Nolan said they have been flooded with phone calls and e-mails from residents who are concerned that the firing was planned out and done without public input. Correia said some residents are looking into whether there were any Open Meeting Law violations, while others want the three selectmen to resign.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook,’’ said Correia, adding that he had received more than 100 e-mails within two days. “I have been getting calls from people asking for their resignation. This is not what people want. They want our boards to be open.’’

Thomas Fay, a former selectman who did not seek re-election this year, said he was stunned. He thinks it hurts the town financially, undermines community trust in public officials, and leaves government “rudderless’’ and “in turmoil.’’

“The manner of Mr. Turkington’s firing was the most destructive act I have ever seen in town government,’’ Fay said in an e-mail.

Fay was among 27 former and active officials who issued a statement Thursday blasting the process and decision.

The letter states that many “shocked residents’’ question whether there has been a serious abuse of power, Open Meeting Law violation, and breach of fiduciary obligation. Some residents are raising the possibility of establishing a recall process for elected officials. The town does not have one now.

Others signing the statement were Planning Board chairman Kent Greenawalt, Finance Committee chairman Bill Steinberg, School Committee member Malcolm Astley, and former state representative Susan Pope.

Resident Patricia Berenson sent the board an e-mail. She said the word “sleazy’’ came to mind after watching the video of the meeting. “Perhaps you need to look up the definition for the words abominable or preposterous too, as your actions and behavior (Monday) night suggest to the residents of Wayland that you have no idea how horrendous, offensive and dismissive your actions truly were,’’ she wrote.

Resident Kathy Cleaver said the issue isn’t about whether Turkington should have been fired but how it was handled.

“I thought it was shameful and not how elected officials should behave,’’ said Cleaver.

On a video of Monday’s meeting, Boschetto said he had taken time to review Turkington’s contract, and thought it was time for a change.

He passed out a written copy of his motion when the board took up the agenda item about a half-hour into the meeting. He had asked Leard to put the item on the agenda but Leard said during the meeting that he did not know the details of the motion.

“I believe this motion . . . is in the best interest of our citizens and the best interest of Mr. Turkington,’’ he said.

Boschetto did not elaborate on what type of change was needed. He said the move to fire without cause would give Turkington the best opportunity to find a job elsewhere.

The motion sparked outrage and disbelief from Correia and Nolan, while Leard and Collins remained largely quiet.

“I think it’s an abomination,’’ Nolan said at the meeting. “I think it was contrived. I think it was rushed. I think it was preplanned out. I can count and I understand politics and that’s fine but I also understand common decency.’’

Correia said he repeatedly asked for more information on the item but was shot down. “I’m not really sure I want to be on a board that lacks this kind of transparency,’’ he said at the meeting. “I think it’s quite incredible we haven’t had any discussion on the town administrator’s performance and you’re firing him.’’

A few moments later, Correia stormed out of the meeting.

Correia said later he left because he was not prepared to discuss the item, which he said did not clearly reflect the motion that was made. “This wasn’t a legitimate meeting in my opinion,’’ he said.

Correia said Turkington’s contract expires next year so there would have been time over the next few months to review his contract. Even though Turkington has received “stellar’’ reviews, Correia said it’s clear Boschetto and Turkington don’t get along and have butted heads over budgeting issues.

Leard, who was a selectman when the town hired Turkington, said at the meeting he would recommend Turkington and try to assist in his job search.

“This is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done,’’ Leard said.

Reach Jennifer Fenn Lefferts at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

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