Selectmen Ignore Will of Town Meeting By Not Continuing Personnel Board
Apparently the Groton Personnel Board still exists in spite of efforts by the Board of Selectmen to abolish the appointed board once the Town Charter was adopted and the town manager form of government came into effect. The Town Bylaw Review Committee even urged town meeting voters to abolish the board, but these voters rejected the request in a late night town meeting session. However, with the vote of town meeting to retain the Personnel Board, the Selectmen decided not to appoint any members to serve on the board.
Now, Selectman Jack Petropoulos believes that the grievance procedures that were once the purview of the Personnel Board might have been a more effective way to handle some recent personnel issues including grievances, resignations and references to not having an independent body for the town's 16 by-law employees. Town Manager Mark Haddad made the clarification that there were two grievances, one was withdrawn, and that one of the resignations was a union position.
Selectman Peter Cunningham, who was a force behind the effort to bring the Charter form of government to the town, said that when the By-Law Review Committee met to address any inconsistencies between the Charter and the Bylaws, "they felt that the Personnel Board was not needed.....it was obsolete and not needed."
"As a practical matter, we do not have a Personnel Board," Chairman Stuart Schulman said.
Selectman Anna Eliot stated that the "Charter is in conflict with the bylaw and the Charter supersedes the bylaw." Petropoulos pointed out that the Charter does not specify a grievance procedure and said he believes that there is a clear need for this. He stated, "We brought it to Town Meeting and they said 'no' so we do it our way. We asked if we could get rid of it (the Personnel Board) and we were told no."
Selectman Josh Degen stated "We didn't do well enough and town meeting voted no. We need to go back and eliminate the Personnel Board, but we need a good outline of how it (grievances) will work. It will make it easier for the town manager, but it gets muddier when the grievance from an employee is against the town manager. There needs to be checks and balances."
According to Haddad, there is a grievance procedure spelled out in the union contracts. The first step for an employee is to speak with the person that you have the grievance against, the next step it to go to the Town Manager, and then to the Board of Selectmen. "If there is a grievance against me, a person needs to talk to me and then to the Board of Selectmen. There are steps in place for this," he said.
Cunningham pointed out that the town had a ruling from Town Counsel on this issue and it said essentially "that the Charter supersedes the bylaw when the Charter is inconsistent with the bylaw." Petropoulos responded that the "Charter doesn't speak to a grievance procedure."
Two members of the former Personnel Board, Linda DiCiccio and Rob Flynn told the selectmen of their frustration at not having been consulted about any changes, and their feelings of having been dismissed. They both said they never formally resigned from the board and that town records had them listed as active. Flynn added that he had a different interpretation of the issue from the same law firm used by the town.
Throughout the discussion, Petropoulos continued to push to reconstitute the Personnel Board "to be in compliance with the bylaws and for the town meeting vote.... If you disagree with the wording of a bylaw, you just can't ignore it."
He then made a motion to "Immediately reconstitute the Personnel Board and revise the bylaws and grievance procedure." The motion was seconded but went down to a 1 to 4 defeat, with Petropoulos the sole yes vote.
Cunningham suggested and the other Board members agreed that the Bylaw Review Committee would be reconvened and asked to take a look at the issues again, addressing the grievance procedures and to generate a recommendation to bring back to fall town meeting.