The Board of Selectmen ended several years of controversy Monday night when it appointed Delores Alberghini, Dr. Mary Jennings, and Bud Robertson to the town’s Personnel Board. The board has been without members since June 2011, when the BoS voted to disband the board and declined to appoint any members. Norma Garvin, Rule Loving, and Michael Manugian also applied to the Board of Selectmen to be appointed to the Personnel Board, but received fewer votes than the three new members.
This Personnel Board is likely to be advisory to the BoS; to the town’s Director of Human Resources, Suzanne Loverin; and to the town manager for the near future. They are also expected to work with the By-Law Review and Study Committee to clarify the Personnel Board’s role because conditions have changed since the governing by-laws were enacted and since the town charter was adopted. Originally charged with an active role in day-to-day operations such as hiring, setting wages, and resolving grievances, some town Personnel Boards earned a reputation for exceeding their roles.
Since then, over several decades, two trends ran in parallel: most town employees have joined unions and town government has changed both in form and function.
- When town employees join unions, they reduce the number of employees covered by by-laws and the Personnel Board because union contracts typically include grievance procedures outside the town’s control. Last week, most of the members of the by-law employees that would have been under the Personnel Board’s umbrella and the town’s personnel by-laws formally told the Board of Selectmen that they would be represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Council 93, AFL-CIO.
Eleven employees, mostly department managers, have signed cards stating intent to join the union, leaving three by-law employees: IT Manager Jason Bulger, Executive Assistant to the Town Manager Patrice Garvin, and Director of Human Resources Suzanne Loverin.
On the town side, things shifted rapidly several years ago when the town charter was adopted and Groton hired a town manager and HR director who took over much of the remaining work of the committee. Older by-laws were still in effect because they had not been changed, although a recent opinion from the town’s attorney stated that the charter and by-laws could co-exist.
Most of the applicants for the Personnel Board vacancies thought the board was important to preserve, but were open to change in its future.
I think, given the current bylaw and the number of bylaw employees, the personnel board is pretty much marginalized
Manugian told the selectmen, “I think it’s very important to have a citizen role in this area given the fact that the HR director reports to the town manager, so all of the HR activities funnel through one person. I think, given the current bylaw and the number of bylaw employees, the personnel board is pretty much marginalized — there’s not too much for it to do.
“I was a bit more interested in the personnel board when it did have non-union members because, as it is described in the bylaw, it seemed that the personnel board did have more responsibilities,” Jennings said during her round. “But I think there’s enough in the bylaw now to make the personnel board a viable group that the town manager and selectmen could rely on. The selectmen rely on many boards, and those boards are staffed by people who have an interest or expertise in that area. I see the personnel board being a board like that.”
Personnel Board Terms and Voting Results
||One year term
|Mary Anne Jennings
||Two year term
|Norman (Bud) Robertson
||Three year term
Alberghini pointed out that she has worked with HR issues for more than 30 years, and is a former Personnel Board member. “I thought I would work with the by-law review committee and see where we can help as a committee, rather than say ‘Í’d like to see this happen or that happen.’ I haven’t been that involved with it, but I’d like to work with it. But I can’t really say I have a vision until I look more into it.”
Robertson agreed with the selectmen’s wishes, saying the Personnel Board, “My view of the personnel board is that it should be more strategic and advisory. In the old days, it was tactical. I don’t think it should be tactical. I think it should be looking at things like best practices, looking at things like if there’s help needed in hiring. If there’s a grievance, and it is asked to be involved, it should be, but I don’t think it should be involved in every day because that’s not what an advisory board is, and I think this is an advisory board.”
The 2011 BoS vote was intended to streamline operations and move its duties to the two town officials and the BoS. It required a by-law change to be approved at the 2011 Fall Town Meeting; but the proposed change was defeated. That left the Personnel Board and its role in limbo because the BoS never filled the vacant seats, although the by-law states that the board should exist. The Board of Selectmen took no action until after Jack Petropoulos was elected to the BoS in 2012. He pushed to reconstitute the board on the strength of the resident’s 2011 Town Meeting vote and because it was required to exist by the by-laws. Rebuffed by the other selectmen, he collected more than 200 signatures on a citizen’s petition to force the issue at the 2013 Spring Town Meeting. Instead, the BoS voted to reinstate the Personnel Board, the action that precipitated the town’s department managers to unionize.
BoS Chairman Peter Cunningham said he was satisfied with the outcome of Monday’s meeting, but the issue and role of the board would continue to be examined by the By-Law Review and Study Committee, and that review may lead to another article in this fall’s Town Meeting that would clarify the role of the Personnel Board.
Petropoulos was also satisfied, he said, “Most importantly, I think that today we are in compliance with our by-laws and with the will expressed by our Town Meeting vote, so Monday’s move by the BoS put us in a good place. In the end I think that we seated three individuals that have a good handle on the value that a Personnel Board can offer to a community that has a Town Manager and a full time HR Director. I was impressed with the vision that they expressed for the future of the Board, and their interest in advancing that change.