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Groton bylaw employees announced at the Wednesday afternoon meeting of the Bylaw Review Committee that they are exploring options for collective bargaining in response to their sense of vulnerability and disenfranchisement after a push by Selectman Jack Petropoulos to force appointment of a defunct Personnel Board.

The group has met several times this week and are investigating management unions or possibly self-organizing. Land Use Director Michelle Collette said that all 12 employees, including department managers, were in agreement that they "(feel) very vulnerable, unprotected and at the whim of town meeting."

Over the last several Selectmen's meetings, Petropoulos has wanted the other Board members to appoint a Personnel Board which, he claimed, should have been done earlier. Following adoption of the Charter and hiring of a Human Resources Director, the majority of the Board believed that there was no longer a need for such an appointed group and that the procedures for addressing grievances as outlined in the Charter were sufficient. However, when it was brought before town meeting in fall 2011, voters declined to eliminate the Personnel Board.

Eventually, however, Selectmen acknowledged that the Personnel Board was still viable and unanimously agreed to ask the Bylaw Review Committee to look at both the Personnel Board and the Charter, and to make any recommendations for changes.

Apparently, Petropoulos was not satisfied because he and several other citizens circulated a petition to put an article on the Spring Town Meeting Warrant to demand that members be appointed to the Personnel Board right away.

The remaining four Selectmen ultimately and reluctantly agreed to the article in order to avoid a fight on Town Meeting floor and they put out a request for volunteers. The bylaw employees asked Selectmen to hold off seeking volunteers until the Bylaw Review Committee had had a chance to complete their work, but those requests went unanswered.

Town Manager Administrator Patrice Garvin advised that she had conducted a survey of towns with both Town Managers and Human Resource Managers and found that the majority of those she contacted did not have a Personnel Board. In those towns that did, none was involved with grievances - only wage and salary classifications. "You need to trust in your public employees. We are professional with years of experience. Right now the bylaw employees are stressed and concerned because we don't know where this is coming from." She cited trust of the officials as a key concern for the bylaw employees.

Department of Public Works Director Tom Delaney said, "This is being pushed down our throats. When they don't get what they want, they use their guys to circulate petitions. We want to be able to use our management to solve problems. The Board of Selectmen is the final authority in this."

Delaney asked, "Who is pushing this?" and Petropoulos acknowledged that he was the one.

Petropoulos then outlined his vision for how the Personnel Board should operate and got an immediate reaction from Collette saying that this was an attempt to micromanage and that decisions in town need to be made on a day-to-day basis and current decision-making could be undermined by an effort to reinstall authority in a personnel board. She stressed that bylaw employees believe that this effort is politically motivated on Petropoulos' part.

Petropoulos said he never meant for the Personnel Board to be authoritative, however, his vision statement indicates something different - for example, it cites granting 'strong powers' over grievance procedures. In response he said, "You have misinterpreted what I meant. I am not looking for the Personnel Board to run the town, just be advisory."

Petropoulos was corrected by Selectman Peter Cunningham for his portrayal of two employees who have since left the town's employ that have said they did not feel that they had had a fair hearing. "I disagree completely with this (portrayal). I am concerned that the bylaw employees want to organize. You are using town employees as pawns," Cunningham said.

A number of prospective applicants for the Personnel Board were at the meeting. At least one applicant felt that if the bylaw employees did not want a Personnel Board. Bud Robertson said that bylaw employees would not use the Personnel Board and so it made no sense to appoint one, calling it "a waste of time."

Following the lengthy meeting, Chairman Mike Bouchard, Town Clerk, encouraged residents to send comments to him or to attend the next Bylaw Review Committee meeting Wednesday, May 15 at 6:30 p.m. in town Hall.

Groton Herald

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