By Ray Carbone
WARNER – Last week Jim Bingham, the town administrator who has faced some tough public criticism lately, leveled some pointed remarks of his own at John Leavitt, a member of the town’s budget committee.
At the board of selectmen’s meeting in town hall, Bingham said that Leavitt had made “comments that attacked my professional and personal integrity, in terms of my work and my work with board of selectmen” at a Dec. 27 budget committee meeting.
“You think about this, because this ticked me off,” Bingham told Leavitt at the selectmen’s meeting. “This was essentially a personal attack.”
‘You have to trust that we’re doing the best we can, that there’s nothing illegal, immoral and unethical going on.’
Kimberly Brown Edelmann, selectboard chair
Bingham referred to a story on the front page of the Jan. 15 edition of the InterTown Record, which related Levitt’s remarks from the Dec. 27 budget group meeting. At the time, Leavitt said that there was “plenty of room for interpretation and manipulation” of data in a report on a town employee wage/compensation study that Bingham had discussed with the selectmen. “All the (relevant) information was going to the administrator (and) he was only telling you (selectmen) what he felt you should know, because he filters out what he thinks you don’t need to know,” Bingham read, quoting Leavitt’s remarks.
“If that’s not an attack or an accusation, I don’t know that is,” the administrator said. It’s unfounded, as far as I know… If there was any real evidence, I’d assume (you) would have brought that forward.”
“It sounds like you jumped to a conclusion that it was something (inappropriate) that Jim did,” Kimberly Brown Edelmann, the chairman of the selectmen’s board, told Leavitt. “You have to trust that we’re doing the best we can, that there’s nothing illegal, immoral and unethical going on.”
Leavitt replied that he never accused Bingham of acting improperly. “I made no allegations,” he said. “All I said was that (the study’s evaluation) was not always transparent… I said, there’s plenty of room for interpretation and manipulation (in the data). I did not suggest that was done.”
Bingham said that if the Leavitt had concerns about the administrator’s work, he should have gone directly to the selectmen. “The budget committee meeting was not the place to put that out (in public),” Bingham said. “Since I’m an employee, that becomes a personal issue… When you bring it up in a public forum, that’s inflammatory and damaging.”
After the Dec. 27 meeting, Bingham notified that budget committee that he would no longer attend its meetings because they were “too unruly,” and that “the history of sarcasm, condescension and personal attacks by some of its members towards myself, the department heads and our professional predecessors, makes the whole experience… demoralizing and extremely unproductive.” (Bingham did however come to a recent committee meeting.)
Bingham began his comments by asking Leavitt if he’d thought about his remarks and wanted to offer an apology.
But Leavitt refused, saying that he’d heard from other people who attended the Dec. 27 meeting and found it informative. Bingham and others in town leadership sometimes interpret vigorous questioning by the budget committee and others as “being contentious,” he said.
“Mr. Bingham called it a kangaroo court,” Leavitt said about the Dec. 27 meeting. “I call it democracy.”
Alfred Hanson, another budget committee member, suggested that some of the recent tensions between the committee and the administration were caused by the selectmen. He said that the board had recently approved some recent «wage increases, based on the wage/compensation study, without the usual level of input from the budget group and others.
Brown Edelmann said that she was mostly responsible for that and that the action has become a “learning opportunity for me, as the chairman… Maybe it wasn’t the smoothest move.”
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton New Hampshire, on Tuesday, January 22, 2019.