LITTLETON — The new town manager made a quiet debut as the opposition that turned out against him at the March 29 selectmen’s meeting did not materialize for his introduction by selectmen at their meeting on Monday, his first day on the job.
During the March 29 meeting, dozens of residents turned out to put the heat on selectmen for their hiring of Jim Gleason, formerly the city manager of Mascotte, Florida.
Gleason was still in Florida on that day.
On Monday, when he was seated beside selectmen, his critics who had previously argued that incidents in his background make him unfit to be Littleton’s next town manager, were largely absent, and none showed up to voice their concerns directly to Gleason.
“I would like to introduce you to our new town manager, Jim Gleason,” said Carrie Gendreau, chair of the Board of Selectmen. “Jim Gleason has over 20 years of municipal management experience. Jim holds a master’s of art in public administration from Webster University. This is just one of many things that he has accomplished over the last few decades - he has fostered a business environment that supported swift economic development, lowered tax rates, and achieved zero debt within seven years, and built reserves up to $2.5 million. We look forward to working with Jim, and Jim, welcome to Littleton.”
The handful of residents in attendance offered applause.
Leading the charge against his hiring was Littleton resident Chris Sweeney, co-owner of the Crumb Bum Bakery, a Littleton Zoning Board of Adjustment member, and a 2018 and 2021 selectman’s candidate, and Jim Alden, a Franconia resident who owns Chutters candy store.
Among the things they cited was a discrimination lawsuit filed against Gleason by an African-American woman and former Mascotte city employee in 2014, an arrest in August 2020 after an altercation with a Mascotte city councilwoman, and questionable social media postings, including derogatory comments against Mascotte and the councilwoman.
The lawsuit was settled in 2015.
Gleason told The Caledonian-Record in March that he was trying to instruct his co-workers on systemic racism in the country and used some words that were misinterpreted and that he shouldn’t have used and that he is not a racist.
His arrest for battery and disorderly conduct was dismissed by Lake County, Florida prosecutors in November for lack of evidence, and a video of the incident, cited by Littleton critics of Gleason, shows Gleason in a heated exchange with the councilwoman, but no evidence that he touched her.
He said he regrets that he lost his cool that day and called it the worst 15 minutes of his professional career.
After Littleton selectmen publicly announced their hiring of Gleason, they said he was open and upfront about his past and that he was selected out of the total 14 applicants because of his management experience and positive job interviews, and they stand behind their decision to hire him.
A few days after it was confirmed that Gleason was hired, Sweeney launched an online petition to stop Gleason from being Littleton’s next town manager.
On Tuesday afternoon, the petition had 543 area residents who signed, not all of them from Littleton.
Addressing concerns during the March 29 board meeting, Selectmen Roger Emerson said Gleason’s town manager contract comes with a probationary period.
Selectmen said they checked Gleason’s references and spoke with his co-workers.
During Monday’s meeting, Gendreau and Emerson also appointed a new selectman to serve out the one year remaining in the term of former Selectman Chad Stearns, who resigned his seat in March.
The board received two written applications, one from two-term selectmen Milton Bratz, who served from 2012 to 2018 and was interim town manager until Monday when Gleason began the job, and former longtime planning board member Linda MacNeil.
Two expressions of interest came from former selectmen Bill Latulip and Franco Rossi.
The town did not hear directly from Sweeney or selectman’s candidate Rudy Gelsi, Gendreau said Tuesday.
(In March 2021, Gendreau netted 667 votes to Sweeney’s 289 votes. Gelsi landed 53 votes. In March 2018, Gendreau netted 543 votes to Sweeney’s 333 votes. Gelsi landed 148).
Out of their choices for the new selectman, Gendreau and Emerson appointed Bratz to fill out the remaining year until the March 2022 town election.
They cited Bratz’s experience and they also reappointed him as town zoning officer and town health officer.
Bratz, who was unable to attend Monday’s meeting, was sworn in as selectman on Tuesday.
“We also want to thank Milton Bratz,” said Gendreau. “He was our interim town manager for the last few weeks and did an absolutely phenomenal job.”