By Chris Paul
Londonderry’s Associate Planner position was recently eliminated by Town Manager, Mike Malaguti, and the Town Council was asked for their approval of the decision at the Monday night, Jan. 23, meeting.
Before the board heard from Malaguti on the subject, a number of people spoke in opposition to the decision, including the Associate Planner, Laura Gandia, who was asked to leave her position on Thursday, Jan. 19, and escorted out of the Town Hall.
During the Public Comment portion of the meeting, Gandia gave her account of how her position was terminated.
Gandia was visibly distraught, and still very shaken up by the decision as she explained how it was done.
She said that on Thursday evening, around 4:50 p.m., she was asked by Human Resources Manager, Tara Kosa, to meet with the Town Manager. During that brief meeting, she heard for the first time that her position in the Planning Department was being eliminated through a Reorganization Plan that Malaguti would be proposing to the Town Council.
“Needless to say, I was taken back, shocked and hurt,” Gandia said.
Following the meeting, Gandia asked if she would be allowed to gather her things, but was told no and was then escorted out of the building by Malaguti.
Gandia added that she has been employed by the town for over seven years and has served a critical role in the Planning Department, explaining that she has a vast legal knowledge on land use and uses that help guide the Planning Board, Zoning Board, and Heritage Commission.
Gandia also stated that the elimination of her position will leave a large void in the department and will wind up costing more in the long run due to the fact that many of her duties eliminate the need for legal advice outside of town staff.
She finished by asking the Town Council to not approve the proposed Reorganization of the Planning and Economic Development Department and asked to be returned to position.
A line of people braved the icy roads Monday night to speak on behalf of Gandia, including fellow staff members, planning and zoning board members, historians, residents, and business owners.
They all spoke of how helpful and courteous Gandia has been in her role.
Zoning Board member, Chris Moore, spoke on how helpful she has been in understanding his job on the board and said the board has already experienced a large void during their recent meeting, where Gandia was not present.
Former payroll clerk, Amanda Longo, who’s position was recently terminated, spoke about morale at Town Hall.
“Morale for the town of Londonderry is at an all-time low,” she stated.
She added that employees at Town Hall fear retaliation for speaking on the fact that they don’t feel town leadership is fair.
The town’s Land Use Assistant, Beth Morrison, also spoke in defense of Gandia, saying her role is “immeasurable.” She added that Londonderry will suffer without the Associate Planner.
During the portion of the meeting that the proposal was discussed, Malaguti explained to the council that in his opinion, the Associate Planner position is unnecessary and duplicative. Eliminating this position would make the Department more efficient, and improve the delivery of services to the public at a significant savings for the taxpayers.
He said eliminating the position would save the town approximately $145,791.48 per year, which includes a salary, retirement, and FICA/Medicare cost of $100,919.44, estimated overtime of $7,000, and a benefits package costing the town $37,872.04.
There are redundancies in the support functions performed by the Associate Planner and administrative duties for which the Town Planner is responsible.
According to the town website, the town is currently looking to hire a Town Planner.
After Malaguti’s proposal, the Town Council went into a non-public meeting to discuss the matter. Gandia asked to be included in that meeting, but was told no, because it would pertain to the position, not the employee.
After the private meeting, the council was unable to make a decision on the proposed reorganization, saying they will be seeking legal advice on what they are allowed to do.
The discussion was scheduled to continue at the Town Council meeting on Monday, Feb. 6.