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Petropoulos Petition Forces Board's Hand: Selectmen Will Appoint 3 Members to Personnel Board

Although Selectman Jack Petropoulos voted with the rest of his colleagues at the Board meeting March 11 to ask the Bylaw Review Committee to look at the Personnel Board and how or if it fits with the Town Charter, he also initiated a citizen's petition that would force an article onto Spring Town Meeting Warrant that, if approved by voters, would demand that Selectmen appoint members to the now defunct Personnel Board.

Monday night, when the Board became aware of Petropoulos' petition, the majority of Selectmen did not want a fight on the floor of town meeting and so agreed that it could "do no harm" to appoint three members to the Personnel Board. Selectman Anna Eliot abstained from the vote.

Petropoulos earlier had asked Town Counsel David Doneski to respond to a series of written questions. In responding Doneski wrote that it was his opinion that "the vote of Town Meeting does not have the legal force of a requirement that the Board of Selectmen act to appoint members of the Personnel Board." He went on to state that, regarding any grievance by a bylaw employee, "In the absence of these appointments to the Personnel Board, such an appeal would be heard by the Board of Selectmen."

Selectman Peter Cunningham noting that at issue is a grievance procedure for the town bylaw employees, stressed that "there is a professional Human Resources Director, so the existence of the Personnel Board is not necessary. We have ensured an adequate grievance procedure for bylaw employees."

Selectman Chairman Stuart Schulman said, "The Board voted unanimously to allow the Bylaw Review Committee to take their findings to the [fall] Town Meeting with proper feedback. We have done research on other towns with the Town Manager form of government and a majority did not have a Personnel Board, although some do. This is appropriate (issue) for the Bylaw Committee."

Selectmen Josh Degen stressed that when town meeting authorized a sum of money for certain expenditure in is not a mandate to spend the whole amount. "It is the spirit of the town meeting that we should abide by and really I suppose there is no problem appointing a personnel board."

Pleas from several bylaw employee department heads including Land Use Director Michelle Collette, Assessor Rena Swezey and DPW Director Tom Delaney to the Selectmen to wait to make any appointments to the Personnel Board until after the Bylaw Review Committee had a chance to make an assessment went unaddressed.

Collette urged the Board "to follow the course that you already voted. Give the Bylaw Review Committee a chance to meet with the 13 bylaw employees and take the necessary time to do this."

Assessor Swezey echoed Collette's position adding, "We are the ones that this affects. I am tired of people saying that we are afraid of Mark (Haddad, Town Manager). We have no problem going to Mark."

DPW Director Delaney agreed "wholeheartedly," adding, "There are rumors going around and you (Selectmen) need to make it go away. Please have the Bylaw Review Committee come talk to us (bylaw employees)." He pointed out that when there was a Personnel Board in existence, they had a hard time getting a quorum when it was needed.

Groton Electric Light Department Commissioner Kevin Lindemer told selectmen that when the Board placed an article on the October 2011 fall town meeting to disband the Personnel Board, "We thought we were voting for continuation of the Personnel Board. The optics are not good on this...At the very least you need to clean up the optics. Town meeting voted one way and the vote was ignored, maybe for some good reasons and some not."

Selectman Degen said, "I very much agree with the bylaw employees and I agree with Town Counsel. Mark is a very good manager and very fair, but Kevin brings up a valid point about the town meeting vote."

Steve Webber pointed out that the October 2011 Town Meeting article was a motion to remove the Personnel Board and not a vote to keep the Personnel Board the way it was. He said there were times they couldn't get a quorum. He added that most of the personnel issues are addressed in a 100-page document that is now part of the Human Resources Department.

There is precedent that elected boards have not always abided by the vote of town meeting. Land Use Director Collette provided some history, "When in the 1980s there was a divisive issue at a packed town where voters overwhelmingly voted not to purchase [electric] power from Seabrook (nuclear power facility), the Light Commissioners did so anyway. A group of Groton - Groton Citizens Interested in Preserving Equity (G.R.I.P.E.) - then sued GELD and the town and it went to the Supreme Judicial Court, who ruled that the Town Meeting vote was advisory and that the committee had the autonomy to do this." Lindemer responded, "The Light Commissioners have the statutory powers to do this."

Selectmen are now looking for three volunteers to join the reconstituted Personnel Board... Selectman Josh Degen said he wanted applicants with management and supervisory experience, someone with human resource experience, and with the ability to keep any personnel issues in strict confidence.

Those interested in an appointment to the Personnel Board should fill out an interest form available in the Selectmen's office.

Groton Herald

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P.O. Box 610, Groton, Massachusetts 01450

145 Main Street, Groton, Massachusetts 014510
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