Selectmen battle over hiring hand-picked employee

MERRIMACK – John Donne never met David McCray.

“No man is an island,” wrote Donne, a 17th-century English poet.

Increasingly, McCray has become an island unto himself on the Board of Selectmen, voting in opposition to his colleagues on a growing list of issues, and often engaging in heated exchanges with Dick Hinch, the board’s chairman.

On Thursday, the issue that caused the most recent 4-1 board split, and then the latest stare-down between McCray and the board chairman, was a proposal to waive the town’s hiring freeze for the purpose of allowing the acting town manager to hire a media services coordinator in the Communications Department.

No one on the board, McCray included, opposed lifting the freeze to allow the position to be filled, which is what the motion made by Carolyn Whitlock and seconded by Chuck Mower accomplished.

McCray objected, however, when acting Town Manager Bill Mulligan said he planned to hire someone who now works part time for the department without advertising the job to the general public.

Following hiring protocol, Mulligan said he will post the job so that current town employees can apply. He said he plans to hire Nicholas Lavallee, who worked part time for the Communications Department, left to pursue another job, and then returned as a part-time worker after the communications director resigned this summer.

Lavallee received Mulligan’s praise for his knowledge and good work and the recommendation of the town’s Cable TV Advisory Committee. McCray agreed that Lavallee would be excellent for the position.

“Mr. Lavallee is an outstanding individual,” McCray said.

He objected, however, that no applications would be solicited or candidates interviewed who weren’t town employees.

McCray claimed that the board has been inconsistent in its hiring practices, advertising some jobs, but not others. He noted the media services coordinator, which pays from $35,359 to $50,995, is essentially a new position, because the job description has been expanded.

The media services coordinator develops material for the public access television station on cable TV and oversees the administration of the town’s three cable channels, among a host of other duties.

It sets a “terrible precedent” to create a new position, “and then hand it to someone,” McCray said. But other board members noted that it’s the acting town manager’s decision whom to hire, and Lavallee has demonstrated he’s exceptionally qualified.

“We routinely hire people that we have had previous experience with and value for what they have given us,” Mower said.

It would “accomplish nothing” by waiting many more months to advertise and interview for the position, Mower said.

Hinch called Lavallee “a gem” who “kept us on the air” after the communications director abruptly resigned.

“The people want this to go through due process,” McCray said.

As the issue was still being discussed, tensions grew. McCray, visibly becoming irritated, said Hinch had not recognized him when he raised his hand to comment on a statement made by Mower.

“Do it with respect, or don’t do it at all,” Hinch told McCray.

McCray then objected to Hinch’s statement, saying he was essentially being scolded by the board’s chairman, who had presumed McCray was about to show disrespect.

When Hinch allowed McCray to speak, he said, “I disagree with everything that just came out of Mr. Mower’s mouth.”