PLAISTOW — Selectmen have granted Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald a two-month leave of absence and are hiring an interim replacement.

Fitzgerald's leave of absence starts today as he focuses on his run for mayor in Peabody. Retired Belmont Town Administrator Don McLelland will fill in for him until after the Nov. 8 election.

McLelland, 73, begins work today. Details on how much McLelland would be paid were not announced. He will work part time. Selectmen's Chairman Daniel Poliquin said the board chose McLelland because he had the right experience for the job, serving as town administrator in Belmont for six years before retiring.

"He has a relatively extensive background in environmental and hazardous waste issues as well," Poliquin said.

McLelland still lives in Belmont and is not interested in the full-time job if Fitzgerald were to leave.

Selectmen recruited McLelland through the Local Government Center in Concord, where he expressed interest in a part-time position.

"It happened very quickly," McLelland said. "We started talking about two weeks ago. We had a nice meeting on Wednesday night. (Friday), I got a phone call that we had an agreement and I look forward to working with the town."

McLelland said with his experience as a selectman and town administrator in Belmont, he expects to feel comfortable in his new job.

"I enjoyed being town administrator in Belmont," he said. "There was a lot to learn and I'm pleased to get back into it temporarily. The town of Plaistow is very similar budget and employee-wise to the town of Belmont."

McLelland will meet today with Fitzgerald, who could not be reached for comment, to make for a smoother transition. McLelland will work about 20 hours a week, and mainly be in the office Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Poliquin said selectmen chose to hire a town administrator, rather than a town manager, because an administrator doesn't have the authority to make major decisions.

"A town manager is able, for instance, to sign certain contracts without bringing them before the Board of Selectmen," he said. "A town manager can hire and fire. The town administrator, for the most part, works for the Board of Selectmen and does whatever we want him to do."

McLelland also worked for a chemical laboratory and ran a municipal consulting business in the past.

"I think it will be a challenge," he said of his new position. "I'm looking forward to getting to know folk and learning about the issues going on in town."

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