Peru administrator's future unclear after residents voter to halve salary

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PERU >> The future of Town Administrator Craig Kleman is in question after Annual Town Meeting last weekend approved — by a single vote margin — a measure to halve his $20,000 salary next year.

The vote came after a number of residents, including Eric Autenrieth, president and director of the Peru Volunteer Fire Department, took to the floor to complain about Kleman's job performance.

"It was my understanding [Kleman] was hired to help the town department heads achieve grants," said Autenrieth, who proposed the salary cut. "To my knowledge, he has not brought any grants into the town."

Kleman, who was hired in 2014, presently works 18 hours per week as Peru's administrator. The vote would cut his pay rate in fiscal 2017 from just over $20 to just over $10 per hour.

That is, if he decides to renew his contract with the town, which expires next month. On Wednesday, he sounded doubtful about the prospect.

"You can't reduce someone's salary by half and expect them to work," Kleman said. "And I don't think they're going to get [a new] town administrator for [$10,000]."

One of the town's sitting selectmen — Verne Leach, who also was a member of the committee who hired Kleman — voted in favor of the cut.

Kleman said part of the dispute concerned complaints about his ability to handle taking the minutes of Select Board meetings. But Autenrieth said the bigger concern was the ability to bring dollars into the community.

"If I went to work every day and didn't perform, I would get fired," he said. "This isn't my opinion. It was the people who made the decision. I put the proposal forward and the people voted their minds. I've bumped into others since the meeting who told me they're glad I did it."

Of the 54 voters who attended, 24 supported and 23 opposed the measure.

On the other hand, several residents who contacted The Eagle after the meeting said the Kleman's performance was a personnel issue that should have been hashed out in executive session rather than at annual town meeting.

"I was not thrilled to do it in that particular forum," Autenrieth said, "but my job does not give me the luxury of attending regular Select Board meetings."

Also at the meeting, the town passed a $2.02 million budget proposal, down just over $100,000 from last year thanks in part to a reduction in vocational education costs.

The town's tax rate of $20.15 per $1,000 is expected to drop by as much as $1.50 as a result of the budget and a warrant article approved by voters to offset the tax rate using $36,000 in free cash.

A $6,200 proposed payment to Hampshire Council of Governments to build Peru a modern website — the town presently has none — was also slashed by residents at the meeting, to $1,500.

The town will now use the smaller sum to find another entity to create the website. Kleman said he has yet to receive direction on where to go with the reduced figure.

"People still think they can get their brother-in-law to do it for a few bucks," he said.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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