GROTON — In a split decision, members of the Board of Selectmen on Monday voted to approve a new three-year contract for town manager Mark Haddad.
The vote did not come without dissension among board members, centering on Haddad’s average 3 percent raise that came in direct opposition to a 2.2 percent cap on new municipal spending that selectmen had chosen for the fiscal 2017 budget.
The 2.2 percent cap was a reaction to growth in town spending that board members agreed would be unsustainable in coming years.
“This contract overcompensates the town manager in my opinion,” said board member Joshua Degen, who preferred to see the annual increase in salary be held back at the 2.2 percent level..
Selectman Peter Cunningham expressed concern that the town would be “left in the lurch” if Haddad walked away from a contract he did not like and the board was forced to conduct a search for his replacement.
Board member Stuart Schulman was in favor, citing the improvement in service from the Fire, Police, and Highway departments to creation of an Information Technology position under Haddad’s stewardship.
“I think it’s fair to say that the town has really benefited from the town manager-form of government and the guy who’s doing it,” he said.
Board chairman Jack Petropoulos aligned himself with Degen’s position, lamenting the board’s inability to remain within its own desire to restrict spending at the 2.2 percent level.
Petropoulos reminded fellow board members of the “conflict and controversy” with which Haddad was involved last year and that more than a 2.2 percent increase is unsustainable.
“I’m tremendously disappointed with the town manager and this board,” said Petropoulos. “This was a chance to shine… I can’t approve of this contract.”
It was also feared that awarding Haddad a 3 percent raise would set a precedent that other employees would want to follow.
Nevertheless, Degen and Petropoulos remained in the minority. When it came time to vote to approve the contract, the motion passed 3-2 with board members Cunningham, Schulman, and Anna Eliot in favor.
When signed, the new contract will cover three years, from July 1, 2016, to June 31, 2019.
Besides the average 3 percent pay increase, Haddad has agreed to pay more of his own health insurance. Vacation time will increase from four to five weeks annually.
Also at the meeting, selectmen:
* Voted 3-2 to reappoint Groton Electric Light Department manager Kevin Kelly to the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Working Group. Kelly had resigned from the group earlier in the year after walking out of a meeting with the board but decided to return. Kelly had objected to the board’s decision to file for intervener status that would place Groton in a position to have a say if the route of the pipeline changed from a southerly New Hampshire route back to the Nashoba Valley. The Electric Light Commission asked selectmen to approve his reappointment in a letter that also included a demand that the vote be a unanimous one and be accompanied with an apology to Kelly. But while appreciating Kelly’s value to the group, selectmen declined to include an apology with their vote which in any case, was not unanimous. Degen and Schulman declined to support the appointment while Cunningham, Eliot and Petropoulos voted in favor.
* Voted 2-3 against a motion that would have restricted voting privileges on the Sustainable Budget Review Committee to local taxpayers only. The motion would have allowed the town manager and treasurer to work with and advise the committee but without being able to vote. Feeling that town employees would be able to serve on the committee in an objective manner, board members Cunningham, Eliot and Schulman voted against the measure while Degen and Petropoulos voted in favor. The measure failed, clearing the path for employee participation in the committee.
* Voted to place a conservation restriction on 35 acres of town-owned open land located off Martins Pond Road.
* Ratified the appointment of Peter Benedict to the Historic Districts Commission.