Town Meeting Article 5: Personnel Board taking phased approach to amending SAP bylaw

Above: Last April, voter Betsy Rosenbloom expressed her distress over the Personnel Board’s annual Warrant Article, urging them to reject it. This month, she showed her happy face when she represented the board to present the new version to selectmen. (images cropped from SAM videos)

In my continued effort to prepare readers for Town Meeting in two weeks, today I’m turning my eye to Article 5: Amending the Personnel Salary Administration Plan.

Last year, Town Meeting voters pushed off the annual Warrant Article to update the administration plan for Town employees. It appears to have been a learning experience for the Personnel Board. Hopefully, this time around Articles will be in favor with voters.

And yet, don’t expect the Article to fix all the issues with the Town’s SAP.

According to Personnel Board member Betsy Rosenbloom, the “living document” has been changed piecemeal year to year. As a result, some sections are purportedly unclear even to lawyers. The board is now taking a multi-year approach to getting the SAP to where it should be. A longer term effort is needed to move to a more flexible plan.

Still, the board is already ahead of where it was last year. The motion for the Article again simply indicates the changes are in bold. But this year, the board is ensuring that anyone interested can also see the redlined changes in advance to better understand what was removed or reworded. The board has also posted an explanatory summary to walk voters through the reasons behind each change.

This year’s version also stripped out a reporting process change that was introduced in last year’s Article. Language and details around a 2017 move to formalize the Asst. Town Administrator as a Human Resource manager proved controversial.

At the first night of last year’s meeting, some questions were raised that couldn’t be answered. The Article was tabled to the following evening so the redlined version could be shared. But on the second night, the quantity of changes without sufficient notice for review upset some commenting voters. Worries about significance around the HR manager changes added to concerns.

Amendments were proposed by Town Clerk Jim Hegarty and strong criticisms made by multiple commenters, including Desiree Aselbekian who called for an indefinite postponement. Official’s failure to answer some specific questions, like whether or not the Town was meeting minimum wage regulations*, further eroded confidence in how well vetted changes and impacts were.

In a passionate speech supporting Aselbekian’s motion, Rosenbloom said she didn’t want to get personal, but if she couldn’t get answers she couldn’t know how to vote. She summed up by saying that she couldn’t trust the people that came up with the document, so she couldn’t trust the Article. Voters overwhelmingly agreed.

Following up on her concerns, Rosenbloom joined the Personnel Board last spring. This month, she presented this year’s Article to the Board of Selectmen. She told selectmen that the current Personnel Board recognizes it is just one in long line of citizen boards trying to do best for the Town. 

BOS Chair Dan Kolenda asked her if the new Article addresses all of her issues with the SAP. She explained that she was “happy” with what they were doing but that it will take a longer effort to fully fix the bylaw.

Over the past year, Personnel undertook in depth look at the bylaw with special counsel. Giving an example of issues caused by piecemeal change, Rosenbloom said that the SAP didn’t recognize the Personnel Director responsibilities given to the Town Administrator under the 2013 bylaw strengthening the position. This year’s Article is meant to recognize how the TA and Personnel Board dovetail, though not exhaustively.

This year’s edits purportedly include all of the changes from last year that were unrelated to the HR manager, plus some additional revisions that the board was petitioned for. Changes include removing contract positions that don’t belong under the SAP, adding two new positions, reclassifying employee grades, and updating the salary grid to reflect what’s already being done.

Rosenbloom told selectmen that she agrees with a longer term recommendation to shorten and simplify the SAP and make use of more flexible policies that don’t require annual votes. She said the board gets “hamstrung” by the current process. Next year, she hopes to be standing in front of selectmen “with a binder full of policies”.

*In case you are wondering, Rosenbloom’s presentation this year answered the min. wage question. Municipalities/Towns are exempt from the regulation. Yet, all Town full time employees are paid at or above the state min. of $11/hr. A few seasonal part-time workers in the Recreation Department are paid $8-9/hr, which is still above the Federal min ($7.25/hr).

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