GROTON — Concern over some residents’ perception of his role in local government, Town Manager Mark Haddad met in a special work session with selectmen to discuss his duties as defined in the charter.
It was not true, Haddad told selectmen Monday, that he acted as a “sixth board member” as some people around town have claimed.
To quash that kind of talk was the reason he asked to meet with selectmen in the work session, said Haddad — to clarify the relationship between himself and board members.
“We have a good working relationship,” said Haddad before launching into a clarification and explanation of the parts of the charter that dealt with the role and function of the town manager.
“The duties of the town manager are very specific,” Haddad told selectmen. “But there is no question that I am your manager.”
Among the responsibilities assigned to the town manager by the charter are hiring employees, negotiating with unions and formulating an annual town operating budget.
The things not under the town manager’s control usually include departments headed by elected boards and committees, such as the school department and the public library.
Haddad was hired as the town’s first manager by selectmen in 2008 after adoption of the new charter.
Haddad came on board with degrees from Suffolk University and Merrimack College and had recently served as chief administrative officer for Stratford, Conn. He had also worked as an executive vice president in business operations for Ventus Networks.
Haddad also served as town manager for Cohasset and town administrator for Jamestown, R.I.
Over his career he had gathered experience in budget formulation, and union negotiations and had overseen the completion of a number of public construction projects.
Although Haddad has weathered some criticism in the six years since he was hired, he has generally received high marks for his work including the annual formulation of the town’s operating budget.
The town manager does wield much power in the governance of the town.
“We did cede day-to-day operations to the town manager in approving the charter,” said board Chairman Joshua Degen at the work session.
Degen said when the town was smaller, selectmen could handle the work. But with an annual budget of more than $30 million, it was now like running a small corporation with many moving parts, something beyond what a few elected officials who had other concerns could do on their own.
“But the town has been well served by this form of government,” said Degen of the charter and its provision for a town manager.
Echoing Degen’s comments, Selectman Stuart Schulman noted the town had done “pretty well” over the last few years and that the charter’s separation of powers has worked well.
Member Anna Eliot said public awareness of the charter’s contents regarding the role of town manager was not widely shared.
“There’s a lot of misconception out there,” Eliot said.
Haddad said some residents were concerned that as town manager, he was “running amok,” so the workshop was a useful way to clear the air.
“I think this is a good discussion for the public,” Haddad said.
“There are going to be some growing pains,” said Selectman Peter Cunningham, who played a big role in crafting the Charter and shepherding it to acceptance at Town Meeting.
The board has planned to establish a Charter Review Committee to begin work next spring.
Degen concluded the work session with advice to the public to seek out the charter on the town’s website to learn more about it and the role it assigns to the town manager.