TAMWORTH — About 50 residents came to last Thursday’s selectmen’s meeting, where many voiced their dismay at the board’s decision to make the town recreation director’s job part-time.
Although the selectmen were planning to have a “work session” involving other town matters, Selectman Willie Farnum decided to read a brief statement about the rec position before taking comments from the crowd.
“Due to (personnel) issues, which cannot be discussed ... and based on the programs that the rec director gave the board of selectmen, the position does not warrant a 40-hour-a-week job,” said Farnum, who was heading up the meeting in Selectmen’s Chair Dan Poirier’s absence.
Parker Roberts, who has been the rec director since April of 1994, did not attend the meeting.
He declined to comment when reached by phone Monday.
Last Friday, Town Administrator Darlene McWhirter told the Sun that Roberts’ position had been cut from 40 hours to 15 hours a week but that the pay rate, $21.10 an hour, would remain the same.
Selectmen made the decision to cut Roberts’ hours at their Dec. 30 meeting. McWhirter said the hours’ cut is now in effect.
Perhaps the strongest reaction to the cut came from resident Bill Willis, who said that in business, it’s tough to get the right person but that Tamworth had that with Roberts.
“Quite honestly, for you guys to underhandedly undercut the things that he is doing for this town, basically behind our backs during the holiday season, is atrocious, it’s absolutely atrocious,” Willis told selectmen.
“In my view, there are three things that can happen: One, reinstate the man and reinstate the program; two, tender your resignation; three, be subject to recall if you don’t tender your resignation,” Willis said, to polite applause from the audience.
Tamworth resident Jessica Perkins, who sat on a town recreation advisory committee, told the Sun she saw the news about Roberts on Facebook and immediately started encouraging as many people as possible to attend the Jan. 2 meeting.
At the meeting, she told selectmen that Parker performed a number of tasks, such as maintaining the fields, taking care of uniforms and answering phone calls, that warrant more than 15 hours’ pay.
“What’s going to happen to the fields?” she asked. “What’s going to happen to the children in this community? I’m sure that many of you are well aware that children who are in rec community programs are far less likely to go to drugs, vandalism and things like that.”
Perkins said Parker stopped by her house to check on her husband who had a stroke and that he also asked how her son was doing.
Perkins told the Sun after the meeting that her committee advised that Roberts needed an assistant because he had so much to do.
PTA president Jacy Baumann also urged people to attend last Thursday’s meeting. She called Roberts a “fantastic influence.”
“I want you guys to really think about 15 hours per week — like, is that fair for a rec director who is helping to take care of our children and teach them the fundamentals of sports?” she asked selectmen. “Parker goes beyond the fundamentals of sports.”
Resident Jason Baker said Roberts has held the job for about 25 years.
“There are things that he does that no other rec director, I can guarantee you, in the state will, can, or will ever do,” Baker told the room. “It’s sad and classless the way that he’s been treated.”
Julie Mason, who said she lives across from the rec fields, said she has seen Roberts putting in a lot of hours and said he loves working with the town’s children.
Other parents also said that the rec program is necessary.
Resident Alan Bunker recalled that last year the town voters voted to fully fund the recreation position. He wanted to have Roberts’ hours and benefits restored.
Also at the March town meeting, selectmen and some other residents had opposed Parker’s proposed rec budget of about $115,000. But they were heavily outvoted by residents who wanted to keep the budget whole.
Farnum, at town meeting, said selectmen were anticipating a large tax increase of about $1.90 per thousand dollars of property value and they felt they could save money on rec.
Selectmen next meet Thursday at 6 p.m. The rec program is on the agenda.