LETTER: 'Guilty as Charged' by Peter Cunningham, Selectman
Last week's editorial provided readers with a fair and accurate analysis of the recent brouhaha concerning the Personnel Board. By failing to pursue the issue further after Fall 2011 Town Meeting, a question was left unresolved concerning the administration of the personnel bylaw and its relationship to our town employees who are not otherwise part of a bargaining unit. This neglect was due in large part to the lack of any significant issue relative to personnel matters and a general sense from town employees that they were satisfied with the way personnel issues are handled. Nonetheless, it was a mistake to not confront the issue and for that I, as one Selectman, apologize to townspeople for whom this is an important issue, but more importantly to the town bylaw employees who have found themselves drawn into a controversy that they do not deserve.
When Groton adopted our Charter, the overall direction we decided to pursue was a more professional approach to town government including the human resource or HR function. Prior to adopting the Charter, many of the day-to-day tasks of town government fell to volunteer boards and committees. This included personnel and the role of the Personnel Board was a much more active one during this time. However, the role of personnel management has become much more complicated in recent years, with the advent of significant changes in state and federal employment laws, and the town benefits greatly by having a full-time HR Director to deal with these issues. The issue has been how to define the relationship of a Personnel Board to this function. To address this, Selectmen have asked the Bylaw Review Committee to revisit this issue and report back with recommendations for this year's Fall Town Meeting.
There is no impending crisis right now that required the appointment of a Personnel Board, other than to avoid having the issue thrust before a town meeting without a thoughtful analysis of what makes the most sense for our town. Our town employees deserve better and not the by-product of whatever political mischief is afoot. The meetings of the Bylaw Review Committee to date have been very productive and there has been some excellent input as to what the proper function might be of a Personnel Board going forward. It is also fair to say that there were bound to be growing pains as our form of governance has transitioned from essentially a colonial times model to what we have today under our Charter. We have all benefited from this in the efficient administration of town services and most recently in Groton's stature in the fiscal world where we have received two bond rating increases worth three levels in the past four years, thereby decreasing the amount required to fund debt service. I suppose that if, at the end of the day, the greatest crisis we face is how to integrate a Personnel Board function, then most people don't have much to worry about.