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Amherst's chairman of the board of selectmen resigns

AMHERST - Following months of controversy surrounding the temporary leave of the town administrator, Selectman Bruce Bowler unexpectedly announced his resignation from the board this week.

Bowler, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, was not in attendance when his letter of resignation was read Monday. In the letter, Bowler noted his desire to spend more time with his family after serving 10 years as a local selectman. His resignation is effective April 1.

"This is not something that I anticipated. It completely caught me off guard," Selectman Dwight Brew said on Tuesday. "I had no indication that Bruce was considering this."

Brew was appointed the new chairman of the board.

"I haven't discussed this with Bruce, so I don't know all the reasons behind the resignation. I am sure that Bruce did what he felt was best for his family," said Brew.

Bowler's resignation comes just two weeks after Election Day when local voters elected Brew and John D'Angelo to fill two open selectmen positions. Bowler and his board have been criticized in recent months for not being transparent in their municipal operations, specifically when the board voted to place Town Administrator Jim O'Mara on paid administrative leave without any explanation to the public for weeks.

Following several right-to-know requests, Bowler eventually acknowledged that O'Mara's leave was due to an internal investigation regarding the purchase of a town dump truck, although no town employees were found responsible for any intentional wrongdoing.

Bowler did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Town officials said they will seek nominations for candidates interested in filling Bowler's position. Those individuals will be interviewed within the next four weeks. The Board of Selectmen will then appoint a replacement member to fill the seat until the next election in March 2014, said Brew.

"I did, in fact, throw my name in the ring already," Reed Panasiti said Tuesday.

Panasiti, a former selectman, campaigned for one of the two selectmen seats earlier this month, but lost to Brew and D'Angelo. Panasiti, who was the third-highest vote getter, said he was "somewhat frustrated" that the board wouldn't automatically appoint him to fill the vacancy.

Marilyn Peterman also ran for selectman earlier this month. She could not be reached for comment.

Brew hopes that a few people will show an interest in the vacant selectman's seat. "We were caught out of the blue on this one, but it is important to fill the position. There is wisdom in having a five-person board because you get five different perspectives," said Brew.

Anyone interested in applying for the position should submit a letter of interest to the town administrator by 4 p.m. on April 4. Town officials plan to conduct interviews April 8.

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