GROTON -- Conceding that re-appointing the defunct Personnel Board would do no harm in the interim, members of the Board of Selectmen voted to advertize the availability of three openings on the group charged with dealing with nonunion employee complaints.
The action came at the board's meeting of March 18 following the reading of replies from the town's legal counsel to specific questions raised about the need for selectmen to reappoint the Personnel Board at all.
That issue was first raised by board member Jack Petropoulos a few weeks ago when he insisted that a vote at Town Meeting specifically intended that the Personnel Board be continued even though the new town charter did not provide for it.
At the time, however, selectmen had voted to discontinue the Personnel Board, setting up a conflict between the charter and the bylaw that was upheld by residents.
As a result, the Personnel Board is still on the books covered by a still existing bylaw that has, nevertheless, been ignored by selectmen, who have not appointed any members to it nor even advertised its continued existence.
It was Petropoulos' contention raised at the board's meeting of Feb. 25 that the town needed the board to handle such issues as resignations and complaints that have surfaced in past months and pressed the issue at a followup meeting on March 11.
That meeting ended with board members voting to remand the question to the Bylaw Review Committee for study and
Counsel's replies were received and read at the March 18 meeting. There, he found that in the bylaw giving selectmen the power to appoint a Personnel Board did not necessarily mean that they had to do it.
The key opinion, however, dealt with the vote at Town Meeting that preserved the bylaw dealing with the Personnel Board: "... the vote of Town Meeting ... does not have the legal force of a requirement that the Board of Selectmen act to appoint members to a Personnel Board ... the direct consequence of the vote is to leave in place a bylaw providing for the existence of a Personnel Board."
Given the inherent inconsistency between the requirement to have a board and no need for selectmen to act to appoint one, counsel had a number of recommendations to solve the dilemma: modify the bylaw at Town Meeting, elimination of the board by Town Meeting vote, or appoint a Personnel Board.
Petropoulos took the position that selectmen could not fail to appoint a board simply on the grounds that there was a conflict.
Fellow board member Peter Cunningham, however, said he felt that the intent of the Town Meeting vote was to preserve a grievance process, not necessarily to keep a Personnel Board in particular.
"That was my takeaway from Town Meeting," concluded Cunningham.
Electric Light Commissioner Kevin Lindemer dissented from that view, warning that taking Town Meeting votes as only "suggestions" would set a dangerous precedent.
Selectman Joshua Degen noted that the vote at Town Meeting only authorized selectmen to appoint a Personnel Board, it did not mandate it.
DPW director Tom Delaney reminded selectmen how it was frequently difficult dealing with the Personnel Board when it had existed but to quash rumors going around that employees were "scared" of bringing their complaints to Town Manager Mark Haddad, it was necessary to take some action to settle the issue.
Rising to Haddad's defense was Degen, who called him a "very fair" town manager.
"How could it hurt if we appointed a Personnel Board?" asked board Chairman Stuart Schulman in a sharp reversal from previous meetings.
If a board were to be appointed by selectmen, said Schulman, it was unlikely that it would be called upon to consider any complaints before the Bylaw Review Committee could do its job and a recommendation for or against be prepared for special Town Meeting in the fall.
"It would take the issue off the front burner," admitted Cunningham, who added that there were more important things for the board to tackle without having to continue wrestling with the Personnel Board issue.