This story by Patrick Adrian first appeared in the Valley News on Oct. 26.
The Norwich Selectboard announced Monday that it has agreed to a separation of employment with Town Manager Rod Francis, who will serve his last day in office on Nov. 7.
Francis, who became the permanent town manager in February after serving five previous months as the interim, has faced a barrage of challenges during his administrative tenure, from workforce shortages to ongoing criticism from community members about Francis’ communication and lack of rapport with residents and employees.
In a news release Monday, the Selectboard acknowledged that these challenges have taken a toll on the town’s operations as well as on Francis personally.
“Rod has acted honorably and professionally during his tenure despite a personal cost resulting from what the Selectboard respectfully finds has been an unwarranted level of negative public sentiment and scrutiny on the part of some,” the letter stated.
Norwich suffered a dramatic loss of employees over the last year, which many residents attributed in part to Francis’ management. According to town records, 43 of 133 town employees left between August 2021 and August 2022. However, town officials have noted that 30 of those employees were seasonal hires.
In June, Norwich’s police chief resigned after just six months, after expressing frustration about not having funding to acquire body cameras and ongoing difficulties with hiring officers.
Francis announced the hire of a new police chief last week: Wade Cochran, a former detective sergeant with the Montpelier Police Department, who began in Norwich on Tuesday.
The town still has a shortage of public works employees, including an equipment operator and a building and grounds technician.
In April, the Selectboard hired HR Happens, a Vermont consulting firm, and tasked it with recommending ways to resolve complaints by town employees against Francis. According to an email from Mark Heyman, owner of HR Happens, the change in leadership under Francis, including a “different style of performance management and a more “‘hands on’ approach” led to a “pushback” from department heads, as well as staff.
“Several complaints have (also) been made to the Selectboard regarding the behavior and overall treatment of staff and leadership by the town manager, including that some employees ‘do not feel safe,’” Heyman stated, summarizing his previous conversations with Selectboard members.
Francis has continued to come under fire from residents during public meetings, including by members of a residents group called Stand Up for Norwich. At a Selectboard meeting on Oct. 12, Manu Tesone, co-founder of the group, warned that the employee complaints against Francis could lead to potential lawsuits against the town.
The Valley News attempted to reach Francis by email for comment but did not receive a reply by deadline.
The Selectboard will hold its next public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The board plans to name a new chair and vice chair as part of a board reorganization. The current chairman, Roger Arnold, announced in September that he plans to step down from the role. The meeting is remote only. To find the Zoom link, visit the Norwich Selectboard agenda page.
Read the story on VTDigger here: Norwich cuts ties with town manager after 9-month permanent stint.