GROTON -- The town's labor organizations presented a united front before the Board of Selectmen over their objections to release of executive session minutes detailing meetings between members and municipal officials to the public.
"We adamantly oppose the release of such records," said town planner Michelle Collette, a member of the recently formed Town Hall employees' union.
Speaking for all of the town's unions including police and fire, Collette told selectmen that if their demand was not met, the unions were prepared to file a formal grievance with the state's attorney general's office.
According to Collette, the issue came to the unions' attention after comments made by board member Jack Petropoulos appeared on a local computer network.
There, recounted Collette, the selectman referred to the release of executive session minutes dealing with employee matters as "dirty laundry" that should not stay buried.
Collette said that employees did not consider issues discussed under the protection of executive session as "dirty laundry."
"This town is a great place to work and until now, I always felt employees were done right by the town and supported," said Collette. She said should the attitude displayed by Petropoulos persist, there would be a loss of trust between employees and town officials.
If all executive session minutes were to be made public, explained Collette, employees would not feel safe in airing their concerns or grievances to officials.
"You will end up alienating your employees," she concluded.
"I certainly share your concerns," said board chairman Peter Cunningham. "It would have a chilling effect on employees."
Apologizing if he had created the impression that all minutes would be released, Petropoulos noted that the state's open meeting law required the release of executive session minutes while providing exceptions for individual privacy on a case by case basis.
Petropoulos reminded Collette that it was the first responsibility of selectmen to decide what would be released and what not. And if anyone objected, there were safeguards in place such as an appeal process leading all the way to the attorney general's office.
Fellow board member Stuart Schulman said that while he could not think of any executive session minutes that he would agree to release, nonetheless, he hesitated to guarantee absolutely that such a time would never come.
"You're banging on an open door," Schulman told employees present at the July 15 meeting seeking to assure them that they had the board's understanding on the issue.
The hearing ended when it was decided that the board should draft a new policy dealing with the release of executive session minutes. The aim being to prevent release of sensitive information barring existing law to the contrary.