Apr 162015

GuestEditorialThis editorial ran in The Groton Herald this week. It is reprinted here with Editor Russ Harris’s permission and encouragement and with the strong endorsement of The Groton Line editorial committee. — Ed.

Other than voting for individual selectmen at the ballot box, voters have no voice in who the Board of Selectmen hires as town manager or how the town manager fulfills the duties of the office; it’s all up to the selectmen.

Town Meeting is the place where voters, acting as the legislative branch of town government, have the power to speak with a unified voice to influence or actually determine the direction of government. The rest of the year voters are limited to individual voices and opinions at public meetings and events, and in the media.

Because ten voters signed a citizen’s petition, voters will have the opportunity this month to ‘speak’ with a unified voice, expressing their nonbinding opinion on whether or not selectmen should renew the contract of Town Manager Mark Haddad. If the meeting approves it, this vote will be by secret ballot instead of the usual verbal “yes” or “no,” or show of hands.

Introducing the topic of the current town manager’s contract renewal in this way is, unfortunately, the only way it can come before the voters as a group, meeting with selectmen, where discussion can occur. Without doubt, this is a blunt instrument. But, unfortunately, it is the only instrument we have.

The town manager’s actions and behavior are, rightly, of concern to voters because of the outsize political influence this unelected position can, and in this case, has, assumed. A majority of the current Board of Selectmen have not welcomed public criticism of him and have defended his unpopular actions and statements, using the new Town Charter as justification.

It is unfortunate, we think, that the first “test” of the new charter has been complicated by the particular personality of the first hired manager, making it more a test of the individual than of the form of government itself.

This nonbinding vote on the town manager’s contract has larger implications; it is a vote on the board’s management of both the manager and the town he administers. Depending on the vote, selectmen may continue on their current course, having been given a greater sense of political legitimacy, or they may heed voters’ call for a change in direction.

A vote to not renew the contract would add legitimacy to those members of the board who see a need for change in the board’s actions, or in the charge of the charter, or both. We hope that whatever the outcome of the vote, it helps to heal divisions in town and among the selectmen and manager.