The East Hampton Town Council has decided on a new interim town manager.
The council voted 5-1 during an executive session Wednesday night to offer the position to John Weichsel, the former Southington Town Manager who retired in January. Weichsel, 78, had held the position for 44 years.
"What we did [Wednesday night] was vote to authorize [current interim town manager Bob] Drewry to enter into salary and other negotions with Mr. Weichsel from Southington," town council chairwoman Melissa Engel said Thursday.
Council member Sue Weintraub cast the one dissenting vote.
Weichsel's acceptance of the job offer is pending completed negotiations, including, among other things, salary and a start date. A background check also will be done. The council would like to have him in place in early May.
Weichsel will replace Drewry, who took over after town manager Jeffrey O'Keefe resigned Sept. 10 after allegations of sexual harrassment arose during an attempt to remove Police Chief Matt Reimondo and abolish the position of police chief altogether. A lawsuit by Reimondo and other legal complaints followed and O'Keefe finally stepped down, saying he was drained. He left with a $170,000 severance package.
The effort to remove Reimondo and eliminate the position of police chief proved unpopular with residents. Reimondo was reinstated after the issue went to referendum in November, with the vote overwhelmingly in favor of the chief, 3,701 to 1,617.
Drewry, who came out of retirement to fill the interim role, made it clear, however, he did not want the position long term. When the council decided earlier this year to hold off on finding a permanent town manager until after the municipal elections, when a new town council would be voted in, the search began for a replacement for Drewry.
"The reason we didn’t go for picking a permanent town manager is that we didn’t want to make the same mistake that the Chatham Party made three or four years ago when they hired someone in, I guess it was in October, the elections were in November," Engel said. "We didn’t want to do that again. That’s not fair."
Engel was referring to James Thomas, who agreed to an employment contract on Oct. 24, 2007, with the Chatham Party-controlled council. However, the Nov. 5 municipal election brought a Republican majority to the council, and Thomas, who was to have begun serving in his new role on Jan. 1, 2008, was dismissed.
"We’re looking at a one-year contract so that we have some kind of continuity for a year," Engel said. "We’re hoping it is a one year with a possibility of a six- or eight-month extension.
"That gives the next council plenty of time to secure a permanent town manager."
There were 36 who applied for the interim position, a number the council reduced to five. The council then interviewed the five finalists, all of whom were from New England.
The town council had authorized Drewry to enter into negotiations with another candidate a couple of weeks ago, but when it became apparent that candidate would not be able to start until July, its attention turned to Weichsel.
“We thought, 'Let’s see if Mr. Weichsel,' who we liked very much as well, 'was available to come on board sooner,' which he is," Engel said. "Now it’s just a question of whether we can meet his salary, which I am sure we can, and whatever else he requires."
Engel doesn't foresee any problems with the negotiations.
“I don’t, but maybe I am being hopeful,” she said.
Retirement did not come easily for Weichsel, who had been on the job since October 1966 and was the only town manager Southington had since it first adopted a manager-council form of government earlier that year.
, at the time the town manager of Baytown, Texas, was hired to take Weichsel's place.
The International City and County Management Association confirmed Weichsel, up until the time of his retirement, was one of the 10 longest-serving managers in the United States and had spent the most time of any manager in a single municipality.
Weichsel first came to Southington when the town was home to about 27,000 people – almost half of what it is today. The town was about to begin growing rapidly, especially with the addition of a Pratt and Whitney plant in the 1970s.
The hardest part of these changing demographics and of his time as town manager, Weichsel says, was being able to remain steadfast in providing effective management while constantly keeping up with the times.
“I loved this town. It was also a pleasure to go to work and it seemed like there was always a new challenge for me to take on,” Weichsel said at a Jan. 14 honoring his work. “Things today are a lot different than when I first came to town. I found I had to adjust quite often in order to be effective and to do what this town needed.”
Ralph Mann, a member of the board of finance when Weichsel came to Southington, said the success can be attributed to his ability to clearly express his opinion, his knack for toeing the line and his ability to communicate in a non-partisan manner.
“John never took sides, he never argued with anything but facts and he was always able to refrain from being on either side of the aisle," Mann said. “No matter who you asked, everyone always had a great deal of respect for John.”
Weichsel, who would typically attend several night meetings a week after working eight-hour days, said earlier this month he was still trying to get used to retirement.
"It's definitely an adjustment," said Weichsel, who was honored as Southington's on April 16. "I miss the interplay with the employees and being involved in physical projects, which is why I went into the field. With federal government, it takes half a lifetime to get a project down, but on the state and local level you can see things happen rather quickly. ... I miss being involved in these matters.
"I'm used to being a hard-charging guy. People tell it takes about a year to get used to [retirement]."
Weichsel, who was unavailable for comment Thursday, gave it three months.
"I think he's probably a little bit of a workaholic and he enjoys it so much he doesn't want to give it up," Engel said. "I like that about him."