By Hiroko Sato

MediaNews

GROTON -- Selectmen ratified a new three-year contract for once-embattled Town Manager Mark Haddad on Tuesday, promising an 8 percent salary increase over three years starting next July.

The vote was split, however, as they disagreed on how to hash out some disagreements before ratifying the contract. Selectman Jack Petropoulos insisted the board enter executive session to discuss his concern regarding the contract, although he would not say what the issue was.

Selectman Joshua Degen said the board should give Petropoulos the chance to air his concern behind closed doors. But Selectmen Stuart Schulman, Peter Cunningham and Anna Eliot rejected Petropoulos' request, saying the board had already spent enough time reviewing and discussing various issues surrounding Haddad's contract.

"There is something peculiar about why this was brought up now," Eliot told Petropoulos about his concern regarding Haddad's contract.

But Petropoulos said his raising his concern should not be a surprise to fellow selectmen.

"I told you that I would like to address this issue today," Petropoulos told the board.

Petropoulos voted against the contract while Schulman, Cunningham and Eliot voted for it. Degen abstained, saying the board should have afforded Petropoulos a closed-door discussion.

Haddad's contract renewal comes nearly nine months after Degen called on Haddad to resign because of the scandal surrounding Haddad's "indiscreet" texts and online communications with a local woman.

Meghan Volpe, a single mother of two, claimed late last year that Haddad had promised her certain town services that were not available to other residents while acting inappropriately toward her. Haddad admitted sending flirtatious messages, but maintained he and Volpe had a consensual eight-month "friendship" through emails, texts and instant messages. Volpe does not believe the relationship was consensual because, she said, Haddad lied about his marital status.

A private investigator hired by selectmen to look into the matter concluded in February that Haddad violated town policy by using a municipal phone and computer to harm the town's reputation when sending indiscreet messages, but that he did not break any law. Eliot, who served as selectmen chairwoman at the time, declared the case closed.

While other selectmen said the scandal didn't affect Haddad's performance, Degen demanded that Haddad step down, saying Haddad lost his credibility and could no longer effectively manage the town.

Degen, the first elected official in whom Volpe confided with her allegation against Haddad, also complained that Haddad's "attitude" toward him was growing worse.

In July, selectmen agreed to delay formal discussions about Haddad's contract renewal to give Petropoulos, who had recently been elected, the time to do some homework on the subject. The board then appointed Schulman and Degen as its representatives to negotiate a new contract with Haddad.

Haddad, who was hired as Groton's first town manager in October 2008, currently earns just over $118,000 in annual salary. The new contract will provide him with a 4 percent raise for fiscal 2014, which starts July 1, a 3 percent raise in fiscal 2015 and a 2 percent raise in fiscal 2016. He will also receive severance equal to four-month's pay, instead of three-months under the current contract, if his employment is terminated without cause.

As Petropoulos proposed to enter executive session, Haddad -- who had his tape recorder on a selectman's desk to record the discussions about his contract -- said he is supposed to be given a 48-hour notice if selectmen need to discuss an issue related to his performance. Petropoulos said his concern has to do with the terms of the contract and not with Haddad's performance.

"Then I don't understand why it has to be discussed (in an executive session)," Schulman said.

"I'm prepared to go ahead and vote for it," Cunningham said, praising Haddad's performance as town manager.

"Let's get on," Eliot said. "It's a fair contract. I'm not going to dance around this 'issue,' " she said, calling Petropoulos as "someone who is going to create another issue" to delay the ratification of the contract. 

Petropoulos proposed to enter executive session after a motion to ratify the contract was filed. Schulman, Cunningham and Eliot agreed to move the question and voted for the contract.

After the meeting, Petropoulos continued to decline to specify his issue with the contract. But he said it's something which he believes the board would have come to a satisfactory conclusion had they entered executive session to discuss it.