Brattleboro Selectboard votes for trial hiring review process


BRATTLEBORO -- At Tuesday night's meeting, the Brattleboro Selectboard agreed to begin a six-month, trial hiring review process of all full time positions.

The board voted to move head with the controversial policy after hearing from town department heads who were opposed to the plan.

Board member Donna Macomber abstained from voting Tuesday because she said she was not ready to vote on the proposed policy.

At the last Selectboard meeting the board began discussing the idea.

At that meeting Police Chief Gene Wrinn, Fire Chief Mike Bucossi and Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett all said they did not want the Selectboard weighing in on hiring decisions as positions become available.

At Tuesday night's meeting the board voted to try the new policy for six months.

The new policy does not give the Selectboard direction to overturn a department head's decision, or to intervene in discussions between a department head and the town manager.

The board originally called the new policy a "hiring pause," but elected, instead to call it a "hiring review."

Under the new policy the board will meet in executive session with a department head after a full time employee retires, resigns or is fired.

The board will talk to department heads and the town manager to get a better understanding of what the employee was responsible for.

The board will decide after Sept. 15 if it wants to continue the policy.

At Tuesday night's meeting, interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said that while his department heads were concerned with maintaining a balance of power, he recognized that the board did have a role in understanding how staffing levels were maintained.

Moreland also said the board needed to take a wider look at how Brattleboro was going to continue to be able to afford the services it now provides.

He said he was worried that the board was focusing its attention on "the minutiae of replacing positions," without taking a long range look at how the town can maintain and grow under the current tax and spending policies.

"I am concerned that the town of Brattleboro and the taxpayers are at a critical juncture where the economy is not growing to the extent we would like it to," Moreland said. "There is a unique conversation the board needs to engage in publicly, more to the notion of what type of services will we be able to afford in the future."

Board member Kate O'Connor, who made the motion to institute the new policy, said the board was taking a long range look, but she said it would only help the board to better understand how the departments were staffed.

"I have no interest in micro-managing," O'Connor said. "We need to understand the process. This is just one more tool in our tool box. We do not want to do anything to muck up the works."

In other news:

-- Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein also announced Tuesday that the board was going to re-open its search for a new town manager.

Gartenstein said the board hopes to collect applications through March and then hold the first round of interviews in April, with the second round of interviews projected to be held in May.

Gartenstein said he hoped the board would be able to announce the new town manager by mid-June.

Former Town Manager Barbara Sondag resigned this summer and the board held a nationwide search and interviewed two candidates last year.

Ultimately the town was not able to reach an agreement with the candidates.

Gartenstein said the town would be working with Vermont League of Cities and Towns during the second search.

-- The board approved the $5.7 million utilities budget, which will increase water rates by 2 percent and the sewer rates by 6 percent.

The winter has kept the Department of Public Works busy, Moreland told the board.

The salt budget has already been spent and Moreland the said the succession of storms has forced the department to quickly use most of its budgeted overtime.

Moreland acknowledged that the town has received complaints about snow removal and the blinking lights downtown.

He said the Department of Public Works has been doing everything it can to care for the roads during the recent spate of intense winter storms.

"A winter like this comes at a cost," Moreland said.

The town also recently lost a grader, and Gartenstein said the board will have to find the money in the next budget to replace it.

-- The town is going to move ahead on proposed improvements to the Union Hill-Western Avenue intersection.

Barrett said the town did a study about six years ago and came up with potential improvements, but new ideas are needed to come up with solutions for the busy intersection.

The Selectboard agreed Tuesday to hire Holden Engineering of Concord, N.H. To do a new scoping study of the area.

"We are going through a new process and we need to keep our eyes and ears open to suggestions and alternatives," Barrett said. "Everyone wants a safe intersection there and that's what this is all about. We want the input."

Barrett said he hoped work could be done this year, though work might not begin until the 2015 construction season.

-- The board accepted a $7,663 VTrans grant to cover costs associated with the Interstate 91 bridge project .

The Vtrans money will cover road wear on Upper Dummerston Road, police work, and other costs the town had to take on as due to the construction

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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