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A disappointed Miller resigns, vows to start watchdog group

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GROTON — After decades of public service to the town, William Miller has decided it’s time to slow down.

Miller, 83, recently submitted a letter to town clerk Onorina Moloney informing her of his decision to formally relinquish his position as a member of the Water Commission.

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” said Miller after serving seven months of a three-year-term. “When I ran as a write-in candidate, I did so after I had begged everyone and his brother to run for the Water Commission and no one wanted to.”

Joining the commission with high hopes of introducing reform and establishing greater public trust following the proposal of an unpopular restructuring of the Water Department’s billing schedule, Miller said he left the group with deep dissatisfaction.

Being on the commission, declared Miller, “didn’t help my health any.”

“I went in hoping to improve the public image and hoped that they would at least listen but the experience was a disappointment,” Miller said.

Miller also sensed resistance to his idea of having commission meetings televised.

“Everything was going fine until I brought up television,” said Miller. “I didn’t have any ungainly motive in suggesting it. I just thought that the ratepayers should have a better idea of what was going on in the department.”

Another important factor in Miller’s discomfort and his eventual decision to leave the commission involved his personal schedule, which made it difficult for him to attend evening meetings.

“The first meetings I attended, I drove my car there,” said Miller. “But I don’t like to drive at night so I decided that if I was going to continue to attend meetings, I had to get some kind of a ride from someone. So for a few weeks, I made my own arrangements but at the same time, I knew that couldn’t go on forever. Finally, I told the others that somebody there was going to have to give me a ride to and from home to the meetings and Chris Kelly volunteered to do that. But it didn’t come easily.”

Once he found a way to get to the commission’s meetings, Miller wondered why they had to start so late and was told that one of the members could not make them before 7:30 p.m.

“We got only a day or two to prepare for meetings and the late starts left no time for questions and discussion,” said Miller. “It finally came to a head when they decided to take up the budget. We did not get advance copies of the budget even though members needed them to see what it looked like. You can’t hold a budget meeting that starts only at 7:30 p.m.”

To solve the problem, Miller said that he suggested holding meetings earlier in the day but was reminded that one of the three commissioners could not attend daytime meetings.

“Next, I suggested Saturday morning meetings only to get a note from the superintendent saying that the commission generally does its business at night and not on Saturday morning,” Miller said. “My final suggestion was to begin meetings at 4 p.m. and the commissioner who couldn’t make it then could come in at 7:30 and catch up.”

Although one of Miller’s major goals in joining the Water Commission was to create more transparency in the group’s activities, his efforts to have meetings televised met mostly with failure.

Holding the meeting in the lunch room, said Miller, not only prevented its being televised, but also forced as many as 10 people into an extremely limited space that discouraged public attendance.

“That, to me, was ridiculous,” concluded Miller. “They don’t make the call to have TV at meetings, the people make that call.”

But by that time, Miller was in bad health and was warned by his doctor that if he did not slow down, serious consequences might follow. And so, frustrated in his role as commissioner, he decided to tender his resignation.

But just because he will no longer be sitting at the big table with the rest of the water commissioners does not mean that Miller intends to sit quietly on the sidelines. Already, he is planning to organize a new group, the Groton Ratepayers Association, and to continue airing his views in his regular newspaper column.

“The main job of the commission is to oversee the operations of the Water Department,” said Miller. “But the big thing they have to do is to come up with a budget. Now, for this year, the Board of Selectmen has asked that no new additions be made but the department is already asking for another technician.”

Miller said the cost of such a new employee would not only include salary and benefits, but also the possibility that he would begin work at the top union rate.

“I have no idea what that situation is,” Miller concluded, “but I imagine people are going to be against it.”

The Water Commission is scheduled to meet with the Board of Selectmen on Jan. 3 to appoint a replacement for Miller who will hold the office until Annual Town Elections are held next spring. Whoever wins that election will then serve out the remaining two years of Miller’s term.