The Rochester Council on Aging adopted the town’s Personnel Bylaw as written in a January 31 public meeting that town officials attended to allay fears that attempts were being made to take away the COA’s authority to hire its own employees.
A January Special Town Meeting article proposed revising the town’s Personnel Bylaw to say that the Select Board rather than the COA “shall appoint such Council employees as it may require.” This change was defeated on Town Meeting floor to a loud, decisive round of applause after COA Friends Chairman Michael Cambra complained the town was trying to take away the council’s power to govern itself.
The January 31 COA board meeting began by reviewing for approval a copy of the town Personnel Bylaw with a handwritten revision that the COA rather than the Personnel Board “is empowered to make hiring decisions.”
Personnel Board Chairperson Kristine Nash and former chairman and current Select Board member Adam Murphy explained that the board’s right to recommend hires is still in the bylaw and that the problem at Town Meeting was incorrect language that he said Town Counsel placed in the article.
Murphy said that’s why officials had wished to table the article rather than see it go to a vote that ultimately disapproved the measure. Officials needed to discuss the article with COA members first, a move he realized too late had not been done. Murphy said he wants to see a discussion between the COA board and Town Counsel to iron out details before the proposal returns to Town Meeting floor in May. “We want to work with you collaboratively,” he said.
Council on Aging Director Eric Poulin said the board’s and the seniors’ issues with the Special Town Meeting article were its language and that the town had not discussed or informed seniors about it in advance. Murphy admitted he was unaware that this advanced notice had not been received, and he regretted being unable to attend the previous COA board meeting.
Nash said the new Personnel Bylaw is still under review, and she advised the board wait until the final edit to vote to adopt it. The Personnel Board, she explained, is writing protections for town employees not covered by unions or contracts. But the language in state regulations left the COA and the library off the Personnel Bylaw for these employees. “You are on your own island now,” she said.
But that is what the Personnel Board would like to fix to treat all nonunion, noncontract employees equally, Nash said. She emphasized that town boards may hire their own employees; the Personnel Board must review potential hires for the sake of checks and balances and to make sure their compensation and rules and regulations are equal to those of contract workers.
As the bylaw is written now, Nash said, the Personnel Board is “empowered to make the hiring decision” but along with the department head, who together shall be the judge of the applicant’s qualifications etc. Murphy further explained that “Select Board” were the words in the Special Town Meeting article because that’s the appointing authority when a town has no Personnel Board, and the town created such a board only recently.
“You recommend who to hire,” Nash said to COA board members. “That has not changed. And that right will remain for all departments.”
She noted the Personnel Board is now working to “radically revise the pay classification system and include additional step increases.” These revisions should be ready for the May Town Meeting, she said.
Select Board Chairman Paul Ciaburri dispelled the perception that the Special Town Meeting article was a power-grab. “We have no interest in being involved in the hiring for any town board or department,” he said. “Zero interest!”
The COA board ultimately followed Town Administrator Glenn Cannon’s recommendation that it adopt the bylaw as written but acknowledge the town will work on the bylaw language later.
In a follow-up interview, Cannon elaborated that state law says libraries “shall” vote on their own hiring and councils on aging “may” vote on their own hiring. The new town Personnel Bylaw was following that language by excluding those two town entities. With the COA board’s vote on January 31, he said, both town departments have voted themselves into the new bylaw.
Rochester Council on Aging
By Michael J. DeCicco