Veteran to ‘Coach’ Claremont City Manager on Communication Skills

  • Claremont City Manager Ryan McNutt in Claremont, N.H., on February 22, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Friday, October 19, 2018

Claremont — The interim city manager who served Claremont before the hiring of successor Ryan McNutt will now be hired again to “coach” McNutt on improving communication with the City Council and the public.

In a unanimous motion on Wednesday night following a roughly one-hour nonpublic session, the council voted to hire Pat MacQueen of consulting firm Municipal Resources Inc. The motion by Assistant Mayor Allen Damren said MacQueen will provide “coaching services” to help McNutt improve his communication skills.

“Both the council and the city manager have agreed that this action will best serve the interest of the community of Claremont,” Damren said after the vote. “This is a worthwhile investment and less expensive than any other option.”

MacQueen will hold meetings with McNutt and councilors regarding issues of communication, Damren said after Wednesday’s meeting.

MacQueen served as Claremont’s interim manager after Guy Santagate retired in December 2016 and before McNutt was hired the following February. MacQueen previously served as interim city manager in Hartford and has more than 30 years of municipal government experience, including 17 years as city manager in Keene.

The city will pay between $4,000 and $6,500 for MacQueen’s services, which will last for no more than 90 days, Mayor Charlene Lovett said.

Wednesday’s nonpublic session on “personnel” was the second with McNutt present in the last few weeks. As allowed by law, discussions about a public employee can be done behind closed doors and the minutes can be sealed so there was no indication what was discussed with the city manager or the details on why MacQueen was hired.

But the meetings came on the heels of public outcry over the decision by the city’s contracted assessor, Joe Lessard, also with Municipal Resources Inc., to forgive $220,000 in back taxes on a property that was several years in arrears and to further reduce the assessed value by 75 percent. The council had discussed whether to tax deed the Topstone building but has decided not to because of underground contamination issues.

Under the city charter, there is no requirement the council be informed of abatement decisions, but nevertheless councilors said they were not happy to learn about Topstone from the public, especially after the building had been discussed at length in public meetings.

McNutt, who said he was informed by Lessard of the decision, later defended the action in an email to councilors, saying the tax abatement offered the best chance for the owner to move forward with redevelopment of the five-story brick building on Mulberry Street that was constructed in the early 1900s as a mill.

Still, councilors were not pleased and at a recent meeting on Topstone during which several members of the public voiced displeasure, Lovett said the city’s policy committee would begin discussing the creation of a board of assessors to make the abatement process more transparent.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.