Tisbury Grants Administrator a Raise, but the Search for Successor Has Begun

By ALEXIS TONTI

After months of delay, denials and appeals, the Tisbury personnel board this week granted the town administrator a four per cent salary increase. But the news was bittersweet for town administrator Dennis Luttrell: Just the week before, the selectmen agreed to form a search committee to seek his successor.

Mr. Luttrell this week expressed frustration at the mixed signals sent by his supervisors and the unprofessional way he learned they were launching the search for his replacement.

"It was added to the agenda [for last Tuesday] while I was away, and I never heard about it until the meeting," said Mr. Luttrell in an interview Wednesday.

He added: "I believed I met the letter and the spirit of my contract when it came to renewal. I didn't start looking for a new job until after the meeting. Until then, I thought we might be able to work it out."

Mr. Luttrell has submitted to the personnel board a draft of suggested revisions to the job description. In that draft, he recommends they change the job title to that of executive secretary.

"The authority that I have by right of the job has been undermined, and I've been micromanaged," he said. "I have the best interests of the town in mind, and if they want someone who will just say yes, the description and the salary should reflect that."

In May the selectmen deadlocked over whether to renew Mr. Luttrell's contract, which expires Jan. 31. Board chairman Tristan Israel opposed renewal, selectman Ray LaPorte supported it and selectman Tom Pachico abstained, citing conflict of interest. Because Mr. Pachico is employed by the town as a board of health agent, Mr. Luttrell has involvement with union negotiations regarding his contract.

It remains unclear whether the failure to renew results in passive termination of Mr. Luttrell or if he would continue his employment without a contract.

Mr. Luttrell's annual evaluation and merit increase has proved a separate source of friction. The board of selectmen divided along similar lines when a motion made by Mr. LaPorte to grant the increase went unseconded, effectively denying the raise.

Mr. Luttrell then appealed both the evaluation and the denial. The selectmen took no action on either appeal, sending both to the town personnel board.

After deliberating over two meetings, the personnel board let the review stand with no changes to the individual ratings. On Wednesday, however, board members noted that in most areas, Mr. Luttrell was listed as meeting expectations in all of 10 categories with only three exceptions: one exceeding expectations and two below.

"Having read the evaluation, I would have real difficulty saying a merit increase is unwarranted," said chairman Williams Cini.

The board granted his raise, which brings Mr. Luttrell's annual salary from $81,222 to $84,490. The change will be retroactive to July 1.

"I don't think I was treated fairly and the same as the other managerial and professional employees, and the comments the personnel board made speak to that," said Mr. Luttrell.

Mr. Luttrell said that all other reviews of managerial and professional employees were completed by June 30, in keeping with a recently implemented but informal town policy. As personnel director, Mr. Luttrell is in charge of those reviews. He said they usually include a face-to-face interview that lasts roughly an hour and a half. In his case, there was no interview.

"I don't know what I'm to think. I want to use the evaluation as a learning tool, to better serve the town, but I'm still scratching my head. What message are the selectmen trying to convey? Half my duties are not even addressed by one selectman, and there are conflicting opinions."

Mr. Luttrell has declined to release the evaluation.

As chairman of the board of selectmen, Mr. Israel was in charge of the review. He explained to the personnel board, however, that because he had already voted against renewal of the town administrator's contract, he thought it was not in Mr. Luttrell's best interests for him to do the review.

Consequently, Mr. Pachico wrote the evaluation, and Mr. Israel supplemented with written comments regarding areas of concern. Mr. LaPorte did not weigh in on the evaluation, although yesterday he said: "I think he absolutely deserved this raise. He's worked hard and deserves this acknowledgment of a job well done. There has been no evidence that his work was subpar."