Lebanon To Fire Manager

  • Dennis Luttrell, Lebanon's new city manager, introduces himself to Assistant Director of Public Works BruceTemple, right, consultant Shelley Hadfield, middle, and Recreation Director Paul Coats, back, during a visit to City Hall in Lebanon, N.H. Friday, August 21, 2015. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Paula Maville has been named interim Lebanon City Manager. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon City Manager Dennis Luttrell on Aug. 21, 2015. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Lebanon — The City Council said on Tuesday it has suspended City Manager Dennis Luttrell and is moving to fire him after just six months of the job.

Councilors didn’t detail the reason for their action, but said they voted in a nonpublic session on March 11 to suspend him following a performance review.

Luttrell was suspended with pay and benefits as of Tuesday, according to an email from Mayor Georgia Tuttle. He has until Thursday to request a hearing to challenge the termination.

“Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t,” said Councilor Karen Liot Hill in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “Unfortunately, things didn’t work out in this case.”

Tuttle and Liot Hill both declined to offer reasons for the council’s move. They directed questions to attorney Mark Broth, of Drummond Woodsum in Manchester.

A clause in Luttrell’s contract states that the city is not obligated to pay severance in the case that an employee is removed for wrongdoing. However, Broth said the council’s decision to terminate Luttrell, who was 65 at the time he was hired, was not based on any malfeasance, such as the conviction of a crime, intentional misconduct or gross negligence.

“There are a whole host of ways which an employee or employer may not be on the same page that fall far short of the really bad stuff,” Broth said.

He said he could not get into the details of the council’s rationale for terminating Luttrell.

The City Council researched Luttrell’s background before hiring him, Councilor Clifton Below said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“You can always second-guess it and say, ‘You know, if we’d had more references maybe we would have turned up something different,’ ” Below said. “A pretty thorough vetting job was done.”

According to the contract Luttrell signed in August and the city charter, the City Council can — with a two-thirds majority — vote to fire the city manager. The council must take the vote 90 days in advance of his termination and give him 10 days to request a hearing, which can be held in a public or non-public session.

Should Luttrell request a hearing, Broth said, the council would grant him one. Such a hearing “may or may not affect the council’s actions,” however, Broth said.

Should the council stick with its decision, Luttrell would be officially terminated 90 days from the board’s March 11 vote to do so. He would be entitled to a lump sum severance payment equal to six months of his salary.

The city would continue to offer Luttrell health care and dental coverage for six months following his termination.

At his Hillside Drive home on Tuesday afternoon, Luttrell declined to comment on the matter.

He and his wife, Beverly Hilliard, purchased the Lebanon home in October, at least in part to comply with the city’s residency requirment. They previously lived in Marion, Mass.

He said he was awaiting a response from the city’s attorney before deciding whether to request a hearing and issue a statement.

Luttrell replaced former City Manager Greg Lewis when he arrived in Lebanon on Sept. 1. Lewis retired in early July and his role was performed by Deputy City Manager Paula Maville in the interim.

Lewis came to the city in February 2011 and announced his retirement in January 2015, giving city officials six months to line up a replacement.

Now that Luttrell has been suspended, Maville is once again taking on the role of temporary city manager.

According to the city charter and Luttrell’s contract, an acting city manager can take the place of a suspended city manager for up to 90 days.

Despite the different circumstances, Maville said ,she is prepared to again take on the city’s top post.

Liot Hill said she has faith in Maville’s abilities.

“We have a very seasoned deputy city manager right now who can make sure that things move forward,” said Liot Hill. “There’s not a crisis.”

Though it’s unclear what, something has changed since Luttrell’s hiring last fall.

Following a candidate search conducted by The Mercer Group, a management consulting firm with offices in Georgia and New Mexico, Luttrell was hired at an annual salary of $125,000.

At the time, Tuttle issued a statement lauding Luttrell’s 30 years of experience in city government and his background in finance, budgeting, strategic planning and community and economic development.

“Chosen from a pool of excellent candidates, Mr. Luttrell’s leadership style, experience with a similarly sized community, and willingness to look at creative solutions to challenging problems were compelling reasons for our decision,” Tuttle’s statement said.

This is not the first time employers have sought to sever their relationship with Luttrell.

He came to Lebanon following a period of unemployment after his contract with the town of Somerset, Mass., was not renewed. He served as town administrator in Somerset from January 2008 to January 2015, according to his resume.

In a Valley News interview in August, Luttrell said he had hoped to stay in Somerset, but the board had other ideas.

Attempts to reach current members of the Somerset Selectboard on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

At the time of Luttrell’s hiring, Tuttle said the Somerset Selectboard’s decision not to renew Luttrell’s contract “was not a concern” based on the facts available to the council.

“It’s harder to deal with three people than nine,” she said at the time, indicating the end of Luttrell’s employment in Somerset was related to a personality conflict, not his performance.

Prior to his work in Somerset, Luttrell held the position of town administrator in Sherborn and Tisbury, Mass.

His work history also includes time as a grant writer and conservation commissioner in Massachusetts, as a community development administrator in Rhode Island and as a wildlife commissioner and county commissioner in Colorado.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Vermont and began work toward a master’s degree in public administration at Bridgewater State College in Bridgewater, Mass.

In the future, Below said, the council could expand the group involved in the search process.

“We might have more staff involvement, at least from some key staff,” he said.

Regardless of what changes are made, however, Below said he wasn’t certain a similar mismatch could be avoided in the future.

It’s too soon to say how the council might go about its next search, Liot Hill said, but she was optimistic about the prospect.

“Every time you do (a search) it’s a chance to learn and hopefully improve on the process,” she said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.