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After Public Outcry, Milton Selectboard No Longer Considering Rehiring Town Manager

Public backlash caused Milton’s selectboard to stop talks with a former town manager that the board was considering rehiring.

The Milton Independent reported last week that the board stopped considering Sanford Miller for the post after a backlash from residents who didn’t want to see him return to the job he left in 2009.

Miller left the job when a previous selectboard opted not to renew his contract with Milton in 2009. He then became South Burlington’s city manager but was fired in 2013 over what the city council there called his “aggressive and confrontational” approach to official business.

The council decided it was worth firing Miller, even with a six-figure severance, the Burlington Free Press reported at the time.

“The need for an immediate change in the city’s top management position outweighs the cost of the severance package,” the council said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that offered its explanation for the decision the previous night to fire Miller.

According to the Free Press, Miller called the council's explanation for his dismissal, "defamatory and damaging to my professional reputation.”

Word of Miller’s possible rehiring in Milton drew some strong reactions within the town’s government, the Milton Independent reported.

Many who spoke noted Miller wasn’t a “people person”; online, commenters dredged up news coverage from 2013, when Miller was terminated from his next job in South Burlington over personality conflicts with the city counsel [sic] there. Planning Commission Chairwoman Lori Donna, who was on the selectboard in 2010, said she personally heard from town board and commission members who vowed to resign if Miller was hired.

Miller was not among five candidates recommended to the selectboard by a committee tasked with finding a new town manager, but selectboard chairman Darren Adams said the body chose to interview him because Miller has experience with city finances and, specifically, Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts.

“The [recommended] candidates were certainly qualified to be town manager,” he said in an interview, “but we were hoping for more experience related to finance and TIF districts. Those are both big issues in Milton … we have two TIF districts and the finance component of that can be very confusing, especially with the changes in state law regarding TIF districts. That’s a big concern of ours.”

Adams said the board asked Miller about the conditions of his earlier departures from Milton and South Burlington.

“He answered the same questions that the other candidates did, plus he explained what happened in 2010 with his departure here and he also explained what happened with South Burlington, and the board members thought that he reasonably explained that and decided that they would try to negotiate with him for a six-month time frame.”

The goal of the six-month contract, Adams said, was to allow the selectboard more time to find a permanent manager.

The board knew it may be an unpopular decision.

“We knew that Sandy was not going to be a popular six-month solution, but I think most of the board members underestimated how divisive that decision was going to be,” Adams said, “and in general, that factored into people’s decision to not go ahead and negotiate with him.”

One board member voted to stay with Miller despite the outcry, the Milton Independent reported.

Ken Nolan was the lone dissenting vote, maintaining that despite community members’ objections that swayed his boardmates’ opinions, Miller is best for the job.

Nolan wasn't immediately available for comment Wednesday afternoon, and calls to listed phone numbers for Miller went unanswered Wednesday. Adams declined to share Miller's phone number and said he and Miller are not on speaking terms.

With Miller out, Adams said the board plans to interview two finalists publicly next week and then make a decision with public input. With regard to the financial skills the board worried those candidates lack, Adams said the board is working to find a financial consultant that can bring the new manager up to speed on the nuances of Milton’s town finances and TIF districts.