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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Assistant Hudson administrator, a top pension collector, to leave post

HUDSON – Hudson’s assistant town administrator, who has drawn scrutiny for collecting one of the state’s largest pension packages, has resigned his position with the town.

Mark Pearson, who took the position in 2008 after retiring from the Salem Police Department, will leave town effective Feb. 14, he wrote last week in a letter to the Board of Selectmen.

Pearson didn’t give a reason for his departure, and he couldn’t be reached this week for comment. But town officials confirmed Monday that he has accepted a job as town manager in Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

“From my point of view, he has done a very good job for us,” Shawn Jasper, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said of Pearson, who led the town’s community development department.

“We asked him to come in and look at straightening out things” in the community development office, Jasper said, “and he did everything we asked him to do. We’re sorry to see him go, but we wish him luck in his next stop.”

Over his three years in Hudson, Pearson led efforts to improve the town’s code enforcement and permitting processes, officials said, and he worked to move forward plans for the Zachary Tompkins memorial football field to be constructed on town-owned land off Industrial Drive, among other projects.

“He really picked up on enforcement issues,” Jasper said. Pearson “streamlined the permitting process.”

But as a former police officer, Pearson also raised eyebrows for collecting one of the state’s largest pensions.

According to a report released last year by the state Retirement System, Pearson, who accepted a salary of $91,600 from the town, collected an additional $102,000 in pension funds in 2010 – ranking him 17th on the state pensioners list.

Last year, town officials cut his pay to $82,800 after they rolled his hours back to 32 a week to comply with state pension law.

“I think that contributed to him leaving,” Selectman Roger Coutu said Monday. “He can work full time in Maine. (He can) collect a full-time salary. It benefits him.”

In Old Orchard Beach, Pearson will collect a salary of $89,400, as well as $5,000 in lieu of the town’s health benefits, according to town documents. He is eligible to continue to collect his state pension.

Moving forward, town officials haven’t determined yet when or if they’ll fill the assistant administrator position.

Some officials maintain that the position is necessary to help grow its administrative and community development efforts.

“There’s no question in my mind,” Jasper said. “We need to have someone in there.”

Still, others argue the town has enough staff to maintain services and that leaving the post vacant would provide additional funds for other necessary projects, including a long-standing effort to combine the town’s police and fire dispatch centers.

“In light of the state of the economy … (the money) would be better used to finally achieve something that’s been on the back burner for this government for the last eight or 10 years,” said Coutu, who has led an ad hoc committee looking into the dispatch merger. “I think (the assistant administrator job) can be handled internally without any interruption.”

If town officials opt to fill the position, they’ll need to add money to the municipal operating budget to cover the additional costs. With the town’s Deliberative Session set for Saturday, selectmen have budgeted about $89,000 to cover Pearson’s part-time salary. But to draw qualified candidates, they’ll likely need to restore full-time hours to the position and add funds to cover retirement and other benefits Pearson received from the state.

The selectmen will begin to discuss the matter at a meeting Tuesday night. Hudson voters will set the town’s budget proposal at Saturday’s Deliberative Session.

“Money is certainly a factor” in the decision, Selectman Rich Maddox said, “but you need to have supervision of your people. We’ll see what happens Tuesday night.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or jberry@nashuatelegraph.com.