Rumford, manager agree on breakup

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RUMFORD – Selectmen agreed to buy out the remaining 11 months of Town Manager Stephen Eldridge’s contract after a two-hour closed session Tuesday evening.

“It’s a shame, whether people agree or not. We’ve lost a good man,” said board Chairman Jim Rinaldo after the announcement.

The town will pay Eldridge, who has served Rumford for two years and was working under a three-year contract, about $69,000 plus up to $5,000 for his legal fees.

Eldridge’s last day in the position will be today. He attended Tuesday night’s session but declined to comment on the action.

Jennifer Kreckel, the town’s attorney, said the contract buyout was an agreement between the board and Eldridge.

The action was taken as a result of Justice Robert E. Crowley’s decision last week that Eldridge must move to the town or be terminated.

Rinaldo said Eldridge could have moved to Rumford or his contract could be bought out.

“I feel even if he moved to town, he’d still be attacked,” said Rinaldo.

Eldridge and some board members have been under fire for not adhering to the town charter, which calls for the town manager and several other appointed positions to be filled by people who move to the town within 30 days of taking a job.

Thomas Carey, the attorney who filed a lawsuit against the town for not following the charter, represented 19 others in the suit.

Carey said Tuesday night that he was disappointed that Eldridge did not move to Rumford.

“I’m disappointed that the selectmen chose to buy him out. There’s a legal basis not to do that,” he said. “I’m sure they were informed about that.”

He said he hoped selectmen had learned something from the suit and the subsequent buy-out, referring to what he called bad advice taken when they offered a contract to Eldridge just over two years ago.

At that time, selectmen believed state and federal statutes did not require an employee to move to the town where they worked.

“Selectmen had bad advice at the beginning. I think this was all unnecessary. This could have been avoided,” he said, adding that Eldridge’s departure will be an opportunity for a new beginning for the town.

Selectman Arthur Boivin, who made the motion to terminate and buy Eldridge out, said later in the evening that the action complies with the judge’s orders.

“Things need to be resolved. This was a very difficult thing to do,” he said.

Rinaldo said he wasn’t expecting the board to vote for termination Tuesday night.

“It’s sad that 19 people in a town of 6,500 can drive a person out of town,” he said.

The board will decide how to find a new town manager at their already scheduled meeting on Thursday.

Rinaldo said he expects he and the office staff will likely manage the town until another town manager is hired.

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