GROTON — Officials clashed at Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting, when Water Commissioner Gary Hoglund voiced disapproval of the way Town Manager Mark Haddad went about hiring a new water technician.
Selectmen voted to appoint Kevin Laughlin to the position of water technician, but not before pointing out what they thought was incorrect protocol in the hiring process.
Calling the choice of Laughlin “weak,” Hoglund said that in hiring Laughlin, Haddad failed to consult the water commissioners and ended up with a candidate who failed to meet certain requirements of the job.
According to Hoglund, Laughlin had too many “work-record negatives,” a license grade below what was required for the job, and lived too far away to respond to emergencies in appropriate time.
Those issues could have been addressed, said Hoglund, if commissioners had been allowed participation in the selection process. Hoglund asked selectmen to deny the appointment of Laughlin and asked Haddad to conduct the search process over again.
The issue of hiring a new Water Department technician came after the resignation last month of Stephen Collette after it was discovered he had been operating a still in one of the department’s pump stations.
Haddad advertised the vacant position and received a dozen applications.
Haddad told selectmen he considered the process a “labor hire,” something that he left to department heads to handle.
“We followed that protocol ever since I’ve been here,” said Haddad, noting that the process has worked in dozens of other hiring efforts.
Haddad said of the applicants, only one “came close” to what was being sought. He said he had concerns but they were allayed after some background checking and a conditional agreement of employment was signed.
Hoglund had met with the applicant for 40 minutes then Haddad interviewed him. Up to that point, said Haddad, Water Department Superintendent Thomas Orcutt had been consulted.
Haddad said he felt comfortable bringing Laughlin before the Board of Selectmen for formal appointment to the position. His only regret was that he did not speak directly with Hoglund after Hoglund’s meeting with Laughlin to find out what he thought.
Otherwise, said Haddad, he had followed established procedure as required of him in the town’s charter.
“I take objection that it was a bad hiring process,” said Haddad, adding that he would not have brought Laughlin’s name before the board if he had not been sure of his qualifications.
“The process was based on sound hiring practices,” he said.
Noting the regulations as cited in the charter regarding the town manager’s role in hiring, member Stuart Schulman nevertheless advised more cooperation between Haddad and other boards and commissions that oversee departments.
“We can’t have too much communication,” Schulman said.