SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — The Springfield Selectboard decided to part ways with its first-year town manager after nearly seven months due to his failure to take residency within the town during that time.
Springfield Selectboard Chair Walter Martone told the Eagle Times on Monday that Steve Neratko, who took over as town manager on April 1, missed his contractual deadline to relocate to Springfield within six months of his hire.
Records indicate that Neratko continues to reside in East Dover, Vermont, a town located 44 miles from Springfield.
The Springfield charter includes a 1985 provision that requires the town manager to reside in Springfield, whether one purchases or rents a home, Martone said. Neratko had told the selectboard prior to his hire that he had a bid on a house and fully intended to relocate but after six months Neratko said he was still searching.
Martone said he had no personal involvement in adopting the town’s provision though he understands and supports its intent.
“To be a town manager you have to have a presence and be part of the community,” Martone said. “You expect him to be available and accessible as the administrative leader of the town government.”
Martone also expressed concern about the distance between Dover and Springfield, which is nearly a one-hour drive. There could be potential emergency situations which could require the manager’s physical presence almost immediately.
The selectboard did not seek an explanation from Neratko about his failure to relocate when reaching the decision to terminate, according to Martone.
“This was not a provision that we could waive,” Martone said.
The residency requirement is a common provision in many Vermont and New Hampshire municipalities for the town or city manager position.
Many citizens have reacted with puzzlement or disapproval to the community’s decision, which was shared on Friday on the community Facebook page, “Happenings in and Around Springfield Vermont.”
“The residency requirement certainly feels, to me, like something we [and the board] could have some leniency on, given the state of the housing market in the state right now,” said Springfield resident Jules O’Guin. “The housing market is flooded right now. People have flooded here due to COVID and there are few rentals available or homes for sale.”
Several community members remarked that they found Neratko cordial and accessible. Some also appreciated his posts on Facebook to inform residents about town news and events.
Attempts to locate Neratko by phone for comment on Monday were unsuccessful.
The town has scheduled a public hearing on Monday, Nov. 30, to allow Neratko an opportunity to appeal his case to the selectboard. The public may access the meeting via Zoom or phone.
The Springfield Selectboard announced the hire of Neratko in February to replace the departing Tom Yennerell, who announced his retirement in September 2019 after five years in the position.
Before joining Springfield, Neratko had served three years as the director of development for the Town of Dover and held previous positions as a Planning and Zoning director in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Dunkirk, New York.
Neratko last officially attended a Springfield Selectboard meeting on Monday, Oct. 26, at which time Martone asked to schedule a special board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 28 to discuss Neratko’s performance evaluation. That meeting was held in a non-public session with Town Attorney Stephen Ankuda.
Neratko is currently on paid administrative leave, pending the board’s decision on Monday, Nov. 30. Vermont law allows the town manager to request a public hearing to appeal his or her termination within 30 days of receiving notice.
On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the Springfield Selectboard hired Frank Heald, a seasoned town administrator, as Springfield’s interim manager. Heald had served 15 years as the town manager of Ludlow, Vermont, before announcing his retirement in May 2018. More recently Heald served as an interim town manager for Woodstock, Vermont.
Heald’s contract with Springfield runs from Nov. 12 to January 15, 2021.