EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 6, 2013

Salem town manager gets new contract

Four of five selectmen happy with performance

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — Town Manager Keith Hickey has been given a new four-year contract with a 2 percent pay raise this year.

Selectmen voted, 4-1, in favor of the agreement Monday night, saying the contract will provide stability to town government.

Selectman Stephen Campbell was opposed to the deal.

Hickey’s salary will rise to $133,000. He was earning approximately $130,500 after receiving a 2 percent raise last year.

Selectmen recently conducted their annual evaluation of Hickey and concluded they wanted to make sure he stays with the town for a long time, Selectmen’s Chairman Patrick Hargreaves said.

“I think giving Keith a four-year contract is what’s best for the town,” Hargreaves said yesterday.

There is no change in benefits, he said.

Hickey, 48, began his tenure with the town in March 2011, agreeing to a three-year contract that paid him $128,000 in the first year. Last year, he was awarded a new three-year contract that would have ended in 2015.

The contract included a “rolling” provision that allowed an additional year to be tacked on each time it came up for review. Hargreaves and Campbell were the only selectmen to vote against the contract last year, saying they did not feel comfortable with the option.

Hargreaves said he voted in favor of the new contract because he thinks Hickey is doing a solid job.

“He’s a good, but fair town manager,” Hargreaves said. “But nobody is excellent. There is always room for improvement from anybody.”

Campbell would not say yesterday why he opposed the contract, declining to comment further on his vote.

“I don’t think it was in the best interests of Salem,” he said.

Hickey said he was pleased to receive the extended deal.

“It came to me completely by surprise,” he said. “It’s very much appreciated.”

Hickey said he has enjoyed his two years at the helm in Salem. He previously served as town manager in Bedford and Merrimack.

“I appreciate the board’s confidence in me to offer a four-year contract,” he said, “and look forward to working with this and future boards to meet the needs of Salem.”

Hickey said he was not offended by Campbell’s vote against the contract.

“While it would have been nice to have a unanimous vote, I respect Selectman Campbell’s opinion,” he said.

Selectmen Everett McBride Jr. and James Keller said they thought the four-year contract would be beneficial to the town.

“I believe Mr. Hickey is doing a tremendous job,” Keller said. “He is a consummate professional.”

McBride said Hickey is one of the best town managers he’s worked with in his 20 years on the board.

Hickey has helped trims costs without major sacrifices to services. He also has an excellent rapport with department heads and town employees, McBride said.

“Overall, we think he’s doing a good job,” he said, “but, like anyone, there is always room for improvement.”

Hickey was evaluated by the board in July and then again within the last month, with selectmen rating him between 1 and 5 in various performance areas. Those grades are not made public.

One area where Hickey has been asked to improve is communicating with the board. The issue arose last year. Since then, selectmen said, he has made strides in making sure the board is fully informed of what is going on in town.

Campbell has occasionally criticized Hickey during selectmen’s meetings for not keeping the board informed on particular issues.

“I think he’s done a much better job of letting us know what’s going on,” McBride said.