GROTON -- A discussion about a cut in hours worked by Town Accountant Valerie Jenkins drew some heated discussion among the Board of Selectmen last Monday night even though it was touted as saving the town money.
The issue was raised by Town Manager Mark Haddad as part of his weekly manager's report on the board's meeting agenda, except this time it had not been listed in the printed agenda.
It was that lack of apparent warning that the issue was to be raised that upset board member Joshua Degen, who complained that he had not heard of the move until that moment.
At issue was a suggestion by Haddad to cut Jenkins' weekly work hours from 40 to 32 and giving temporary town accountant Patricia DuFresne the responsibility of officially filling in for her when Jenkins was not in the office.
Jenkins would take the reduction in hours ahead of her planned retirement as town accountant at the end of the year when DuFresne will officially take over the position.
The reduction in hours would save the town a few thousand dollars but that was not the issue that drew Degen's ire.
What the selectman objected to was not being informed of the request at least a week ahead of time so that he could consider it in advance of voting.
Degen said that as a selectman, he refused to simply be "a puppet on a string" for the town manager.
It was not the first time Degen had had a disagreement with Haddad, having walked out on a meeting some months before.
"I'm not a puppet for anybody," said board member Anna Eliot of Degen's metaphor.
Eliot said board members knew about the proposal and had been kept up to date on it.
"So I don't feel it is being thrown at us," Eliot concluded.
In rebuttal, fellow board member Peter Cunningham said that the town's charter had the intention of allowing selectmen to step back from the day-to-day responsibilities of running the municipal government and giving that authority to the town manager, responsibilities that included suggesting employees for appointment by the board.
A motion to approve the cut in hours and allowing DuFresne to fill in for Jenkins was approved by a vote of 3-1 with board members Stuart Schulman, Cunningham, and Eliot deciding in favor and Degen against.
Board member Jack Petropoulos abstained.
But no sooner had the vote been taken when Degen again raised the subject of timely notification of appointments by the town manager asking again for at least a week's warning.
Haddad responded somewhat hotly that over the past four years of his employment with the town, it has been his practice to bring appointments before the board in his own time but if that policy was to be changed, he wanted to know about it.
"Tonight, you're changing the rules," Haddad observed.
"No I'm not," returned Degen.
At that point, chairman Schulman interjected to halt the dispute at which time Degen made a motion to have the board notified a week in advance on all appointments suggested by the town manager.
Stopping short of a vote on the motion, selectmen agreed to discuss the issue ahead of a future meeting in which a vote could be taken whether or not to adopt Degen's suggestion of a week's notice.
Ironically, before Monday night's altercation on appointments, board members had voted to appoint Ruth Stevens as office assistant for the Water/Sewer Office and Kelly Merrill as office assistant for the DPW.