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OPINION: Selectman Chairman Petropoulos' Public Comments Opposing Town Manager's New 3-Year Contract

Editors note: In this space we occasionally publish pieces of interest to our readers including items from Talkaboutgroton and Charter Review Suggestions. This week we print comments made by Selectman Chairman Jack Petropoulos transcribed from a video recording of this week's Selectman's meeting. These comments were made in response to the Board's 3-2 vote to approve a new three-year contract for the Town Manager. These transcribed oral comments have been slightly edited for clarity. The video comments may be seen in a clip from the selectmen's meeting posted on the Herald website along with this transcription of Selectman Petropoulos' comments.

"I saw the contract [Town Manager's contract renewal] as an opportunity for the Board of Selectmen to demonstrate resolve and leadership. We had a chance to stand up. Last Tuesday, we [Selectmen and Assessors] gave up $6,100 in stipends for work that we spend 30 hours a week doing. We did this so we could help make affordable the things that the town values.

Twelve hours after doing that, those savings and that example evaporated and we acquiesced to the single largest increase in the town manager's compensation ever approved in the years that I have been a selectman. Not only was the Town Manager himself not willing to abide by the 2.2% spending guidance, we couldn't even hold ourselves [BoS] to our own word, our own guidance.

We asked the town to incur constraints of a 2.2 % [budget] increase, but we couldn't constrain the person under our direct supervision. We exceeded that growth [2.2% limit] by more than 200% [in his new contract]. Instead, we really demonstrated an amazing indifference to the environment around us: the growth, or non-growth, of taxpayer salaries. This is the challenge we've got in our own budget.

We understand this, but I didn't see it here in this contract negotiation as I walk through it. We granted 5 plus percent growth in compensation to an employee who in year 2015 incurred conflict and controversy that would not have been tolerated in a lot of organizations. We have immensely difficult challenges ahead. Particularly with regard to compensation.

We had an opportunity to bring bonuses or compensation into this contract - an opportunity to have market-indexed raises and COLAs. And we dishonored those opportunities. We had a chance to make substantial changes that would have given more to taxpayers as we go forward, that would have helped us to show that we are attuned to what they need.

But instead, we went back to the terms that have failed us in the past and brought us to where we are today. We failed to change course. So, the example that we set is really one that we can't sustain.

We can't sustain an average 3.3% spending - after discounting healthcare contributions. We cannot sustain 5% growth, which is what we've given this year. This is the example we [BoS] have set by approving this contract. And we set that example with the very person you all are talking about is going to go out there and 'save' us.

I'm just tremendously disappointed by both the Town Manager and by this board. This was our chance to shine. And we didn't. We just didn't.

As an elected official responsible to taxpayers, I just cannot approve this contract. That's what I have to say.

Groton Herald

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