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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Special Town Council meeting - not so special

Showdown postponed, though the "Kill Bill Campaign" continues
By Will Collette

It was Town Administrator Bill DiLibero who was trying to press the action against his now arch-nemesis, Town Council VP Deputy Dan Slattery (CCA). DiLibero wanted the Council to take a hard look at the extent to which they want to micro-manage town management by asking them to set guidelines for who, how, and when town staff and volunteers can seek donations to support town activities, such as the community garden at Ninigret, the summer concerts or the upcoming Easter Egg Hunt.

But wily Deputy Dan pushed DiLibero's request to the back of the agenda, knowing that the main business of the Special Meeting, the seemingly endless review of the draft of a new town personnel manual, would chew up the clock.

And it did.

For more than three hours, four Council members (Councilor Marge Frank not present) and just about all of the town Department heads, acting as the membership of the Charlestown Professional Managers Association (a quasi-union), went through the draft, section by section.

Uncle Fluffy is back!
Though the actual content of the discussion was far from riveting, I found the group dynamic very interesting. I enjoyed seeing all the town professionals working together as a team to essentially collectively bargain with the Council. They came to the meeting prepared and united, with specific recommendations for changes to the language of the manual.

Also interesting was Town Council President Tom Gentz's effort to reclaim his lost Uncle Fluffy persona. As readers may recall, since the March 12 Town Council meeting, jolly old Uncle Fluffy Gentz took off his mask and showed us what Boss Gentz looks like.

You could tell Uncle Fluffy was trying to come back early in the meeting when Gentz suggested calling the section of the manual on "progressive discipline" progressive employee coaching.

And even Deputy Dan seemed to be making an effort to snarl and sneer less than usual.

What I learned from watching more than three hours of interplay over the wording of the personnel manual is this – our town staff are competent professionals while our town council leaders are, for the most part, clowns.

Most of the many hours of time spent working on this personnel manual are wasted hours because just about every important provision in the manual is already addressed in employee collective bargaining agreements or professional contracts, or is already determined by state or federal law.

It's good to have the conversation
And those collective bargaining agreements, professional contracts and state or federal laws supersede anything that may be written into the town personnel manual.  Even though Gentz said on several occasions that he wanted the personnel manual to contain the language that serves as the model for the collective bargaining agreements, he kept getting reminded that this is not the way it works anywhere but perhaps on the Bizarro World.

But as Uncle Fluffy Gentz said maybe a dozen times, "It's good to have this conversation." Good for whom, he didn't say.

The town has a human relations consultant who is clearly racking up lots and lots of billable hours to work on this exercise in redundancy. Our town solicitor's office is also putting in a lot of time that could probably be better spent elsewhere.

I certainly will never get those three hours back. And, damn you, Marge Frank, for having the good sense to skip this meeting.

Just a quick note about the denouement of the meeting – the discussion of DiLibero's request for Council guidance on how to deal with gifts, grants and donations. Led by a restrained and somewhat genial Deputy Dan, the Councilors said it was fine for Susie Furman, the volunteer coordinator of the Community Garden, to accept donated goods, although Deputy Dan kept repeating how she needed to coordinate with Town Treasurer Pat Anderson to make sure she did it right.

For instance, Ms. Furman is to check with Pat Anderson first before accepting any unusual donations, such as a herd of goats or a pound of plutonium.

Pat noted that she and the auditors had arrived at a practical process to process and account for donations, including non-cash donations, so that we don't have a repeat of the infamous Glista Gang incident (right) that earned Deputy Dan his much deserved reputation as a crime-fighter.

But the main issues of policy – not to mention the barely hidden and seething animosity between DiLibero and Deputy Dan Slattery (with Councilor DiBello just itching to get in on the fight) – are deferred to a regular Town Council meeting. So expect that between now and the April 9 Town Council meeting, Deputy Dan and his followers will gather the kindling and the torches for the upcoming auto-da-fe.