GROTON — Despite a “checkered” past, Town Manager Mark Haddad received a vote of confidence of sorts when the Board of Selectmen agreed to enter negotiations with him for a renewal of his contract.
The 4-1 vote arrived early in the board’s meeting Monday, but not before some discussion among selectmen that touched upon Haddad’s shortcomings as well as his positive qualities.
The decision to enter contract-renewal talks with Haddad had been delayed to allowed board member Joshua Degen to participate and it was Degen who opened the discussion with a prepared statement that did not shy away from criticizing Haddad’s performance over the years, including an embarrassing email, his calls to have various selectmen being investigated, and the time he asked for police protection at a past meeting.
Noting that his comments regarding the town manager’s performance were not included in the final review, Degen said that that left only positive reports in the review document. The selectman said that knowing this going forward displayed “the highest level of insubordination” on the part of Haddad.
“It’s time to end our association with Mark,” said Degen adding that the town manager did not represent the best of Groton.
But contrary to Degen’s assessment, Selectman Peter Cunningham said he had heard only positive things about the town manager. He noted a “great deal of improvement in the budget” among other things and that the town had greatly benefited from Haddad’s expertise.
Degen conceded Haddad’s professionalism but insisted in his actions he had not shown sufficient respect to the board and that the damage he caused in their relations was not good.
“It’s all about the job,” said Selectman Stuart Schulman. “There’s a lot of personality stuff here which counts for very little.”
Schulman praised Haddad for working hard to address those areas in his performance that others have complained about and had been “very conscientious” about doing so.
The town, added Selectman Anna Eliot, was functioning very well under Haddad’s leadership including many important departments. Furthermore, the town manager had fostered a positive work environment for municipal employees.
“We’re on a good track right now,” concluded Eliot.
Eliot’s position seemed borne out by comments from Assessor Rena Swezey, Water Department Superintendent Thomas Orcutt, and DPW Director Tom Delaney.
“The level of professionalism we have now is unequaled,” declared Delaney.
Selectmen Chairman Jack Petropoulos, after describing his own reservations about the town manager, admitted that Haddad had “gotten the memo” and had demonstrated his intentions to improve his performance.
As a result, Petropoulos said that although he could not support a full three-year contract renewal for the town manager, he could support a one-year renewal that might be considered a probationary period before renegotiating again down the road.
Citing a tight market for hiring good town managers, Cunningham preferred that an offer remain at three years.
Eliot agreed but Schulman suggested a compromise of two years.
Recognizing that it was “very important” for the board to come a decision with a unanimous vote, Degen stepped back and expressed willingness to support a one-year contract for Haddad.
But after strong support for Haddad from the town’s employees, selectmen in the end voted 4-1 to enter contract renewal negotiations with no time limit attached.
On the final vote, Degen was the sole dissenter.
Also at the board’s meeting Monday, selectmen:
* Voted to retain the town’s traditional single tax rate that allows the same rate to be charged to both commercial and residential property. With the vote, the tax rate itself will rise from $18.27 per $1,000 assessed valuation in 2015 to $18.79 in 2016.
* Voted to retain the services of the town’s current legal counsel Kopelman & Paige. The choice came following a decision earlier in the year to conduct a search for a new counsel with the hopes of finding one with a better deal for the town. But after interviews were conducted with a number of candidates, it was decided that none matched the combined services, experience, and cost as Kopelman & Paige.
* Voted to declare a day to be decided upon as Art Campbell Day. When it was learned that Campbell, town gadfly and editor of the web-based Groton Line, had moved out of town, selectmen decided that his contributions to the ongoing conversation surrounding all things Groton had been valuable enough to extend special recognition of his services.