Posted on 22 July 2010.
[Correction: The number of hours worked by Beth Paul is 20 hours for Burlington and 20 hours for New Hartford, not 15 hours for New Hartford as our reporter assumed in the original report. Â The information regarding the breakdown of her hours was not forthcoming from the First Selectman's Office, therefore our reporter assumed that Beth was working the 35 hours specified by the employees' union contract since Beth is a union member. Â Today our reporter confirmed unofficially that Beth's work hours are 20 hours for Burlington and 20 hours for New Hartford. Â We have not been able to confirm officially whether the additional 5 hours are being paid to Beth as overtime; nor have we been able to confirm officially whether the town is being reimbursed by Burlington for a proportion of her salary and benefits, as has been customary when the town has contracted out its employees to other municipalities in the past; 7:15 p.m., Friday, July 23]
[Correction: The union representative corrected the statement regarding the union not being approached for concessions during the budgetary process as stated in this report. Â The union said that the First Selectman had asked for concessions on the health insurance, the union wanted to negotiate saving the Administrative Assistant's position in the Land Use Office; this was not made negotiable by the First Selectman and no concessions were made by the union. Â Subsequently, a part-time Administrative Assistant position was reinstated in the Land Use Office and has been filled; 7:30 p.m., Friday, July 23]
[Correction: The number of hours worked by the Registrars of Voters is 10 hours per week, plus any additional days required for elections; this number was incorrectly given as 15 in this article and has been changed to 10. Â The corrected total hours worked by Lila Tuxbury are 20 hours per week, which still make her eligible to qualify for the town's pension plan. Â We apologise for this incorrect number; 1:00 p.m., Thursday, July 22]
By: Maria Moore
With the Jerram administration now well into its 7th month in office, that is, over a quarter through its term, NewHartfordPlus is looking at the functioning of Town Hall to see what that might tell us about the current administration. Following is Part II of a two-part report that looks at the way the Jerram administration has handled personnel changes at Town Hall. Part I, published yesterday enumerated the changes in staffing at Town Hall that have occurred since the Jerram administration came into office on December 1, 2009.
Over the past 6 months or so our reporter has spoke many times with First Selectman Dan Jerram regarding personnel changes at Town Hall and the manner in which those changes are being handled. The last contact she had with him regarding staffing at Town Hall was at the beginning of last week, the week of July 12. On Thursday, July 15 she stopped by his office to speak with him about the vandalism at Brodie Park; on Friday, July 16 she stopped in again a few minutes before noon to ask him personnel-related questions for this article; however he had just left for his one-week vacation. Our reporter also speaks with Christine Hayward, Dan Jerram’s administrative Assistant several times a week regarding municipal personnel matters. Her last conversation with Christine regarding personnel matters at Town Hall was this afternoon, Wednesday, July 21.
Our reporter mentioned to First Selectman Dan Jerram this report on personnel changes at Town Hall that she was working on and he said that he had stepped into “a particularly challenging time” when his administration came into office. Â He pointed out the fraud that he had had to deal with and also the recession which had a huge impact on his budget for this fiscal year. Our reporter acknowledged the challenges he faced but also pointed out that each administration has had to face its own challenges; for example, his predecessor, Earl MacInnes had to deal with getting the approval by the townspeople for the sewer plant and then getting the construction of that plant off the ground. Â Dan emphasized that there are more positive things for our reporter to focus on, such as the road repairs that are ongoing. Â A report on the road repairs will be forthcoming; however, this report will concentrate on how changes in personnel are being dealt with by the First Selectman since we believe this gives valuable insight into the management style of the Jerram administration.
Following is how some of the personnel changes outlined in Part I of this report have been, or are being handled by the First Selectman:
1. Â The replacement of the Highway Superintendent
The day after the Highway Superintendent was suspended without pay on January 7 First Selectman Dan Jerram appointed fellow Republican Selectman Bruce Gresczyk as Interim Highway Superintendent. Â Beginning January 8, Bruce was paid $30 per hour, without benefits and with the use of a town vehicle and a gas card. Â Dan pointed out the need to have someone with experience step into the position immediately since it was the middle of winter and the town was almost out of salt. Â Bruce had been First Selectman in town from the early ’90s through 1998 when he left that position to move to one at the state Department of Agriculture.
Selectman Bruce Gresczyk served as Interim Highway Superintendent from January 8 through March 12, when he resigned from the position to go back to work full-time on his family’s farming business. Â During his two-month stint as head of the Highway Department, Bruce reported to both the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance that he had undertaken an extensive survey of the town roads, most of which he said were in “deplorable condition”. Â Bruce completed that survey and helped set priorities for the roadwork to be done with the newly-elected First Selectman. Our reporter asked for a copy of Bruce’s report on the town roads and was told that Bruce had not produced a written report, neither was there a written list of priorities for road work to be undertaken; the First Selectman did show our reporter a photocopied map of the town with roads to be worked on highlighted in yellow.
Bruce also began a major tree-cutting operation in town because, as he reported to the Board of Selectmen and to the Board of Finance members, the town had neglected to keep up with tree maintenance and there were many trees that were a danger. Â Our reporter asked at the end of a selectmen’s meeting what happened to the trees that were being cut down around town and she was told that they were left where they were cut and that the property owners normally took the wood.
On March 22, one week after Bruce had vacated the Interim Highway Superintendent position a new Interim Highway Superintendent (or Interim Highway Foreman as he corrected our reporter) was appointed by the First Selectman. That second Interim Highway Foreman is Doug Spencer, a 37-year veteran of the town’s Highway Department and the head of one of the town’s two road crew groups.
Our reporter checked in with the First Selectman’s Office about the “Interim” status of Doug Spencer’s appointment as Highway Foreman and she was told that it would continue for the foreseeable future.
2. Â Resignation of the Town Hall Custodian and His Replacement
Norm Paul, the part-time Custodian at Town Hall worked early morning hours, completing his work before Town Hall staff arrived at work at 8:00 a.m. Â Norm was informed in February by First Selectman Dan Jerram that he was needed to work during the hours that Town Hall was open. Â Norm agreed to change most of his work hours to accommodate the new requirements, but not all. Â This was unacceptable to the First Selectman and Norm resigned.
Our reporter asked what Norm’s work hours were when he was hired and she was told that he had been hired to work while Town Hall was open; however, he had been allowed to change his hours to early morning hours under a previous administration.
Norm’s position was not advertised as being available but rather was filled by word of mouth. Â An Interim Custodian, who is related to a road crew member has been hired for the position. Â However, since she is not available to work during the summer ~ she works at Brodie summer camp ~ the First Selectman’s Office advertised for a temporary summer Custodian. Â A college student has been hired for the summer until the Interim Custodian is available to return to the position. Â Our reporter asked whether there were any plans to hire someone permanently for that position, and was told that for now it was an interim position.
3. The suspension and retirement of the Land Use (Zoning) Officer
The town’s Zoning Officer, Karl Nilsen was suspended without pay on the basis of an internal investigation by the First Selectman of alleged time card fraud; please see our coverage of Karl’s suspension which led to his retirement. Â At the beginning of this year our reporter had asked Karl about his retirement plans and Karl had responded that he had “another 5 years” before retiring. Â Karl, however was openly unhappy with the new administration’s plan to eliminate the Administrative Assistant from the Land Use Office. Â Like other office heads at Town Hall, he had not been asked to submit a department budget for the new fiscal year as had always been the practice of previous First Selectmen. Â This year Karl and other other department heads were informed of what their budget would be and what cuts were being made. Â The department heads were concerned about what the cuts proposed for their offices in the new budget and three of them attended the Saturday morning workshop held by the Board of Finance this past March; however, no public input was allowed at that workshop.
The internal investigation carried out by the First Selectman centered around Karl’s allegedly billing the same work hours to both New Hartford and Burlington. Â While the investigation was ongoing our reporter asked the following questions of the First Selectman’s Office:
- Has there been a specific policy regarding employees to sign in and to sign out when leaving the building, as the new administration was now requiring all employees to do? Â From what our reporter could gather, there was no set, written procedure; each First Selectman handled it differently, with the most recent First Selectman, Earl MacInnes not requiring anyone to sign in or out.
- Do employees have regular job performance reviews where they receive input regarding their performance and the expectations of their employer are clarified? Â From the information our reporter was able to gather, it appears that employees at Town Hall do not receive job performance reviews or evaluations, nor have these been instituted by the Jerram administration.
- Is there an employee policy handbook, with specific guidelines and requirements of the employees at Town Hall? Â Our reporter was told that there is no Â employee policy handbook, nor are there any plans to put one together; rather, the response was that “we’re too small an organization” to put together an employee policy handbook.
Following the acceptance of Karl’s retirement request by the First Selectman on June 6, an Interim Zoning Officer was appointed. Â Rista Malanca, who previously worked as the Administrative Assistant in the Land Use Office, has been appointed to the interim position. Â A copy of the Memorandum of Understanding which was just signed last week was not available to our reporter.
4. Â Bookkeeper’s Assistant Position
Roxanne Helt resigned from the Bookkeeper Assistant position in May. Â Her resignation was not communicated generally to the other staff at Town Hall; however, Lila Tuxbury, the Republican Registrar of Voters, was observed being trained for the assistant bookkeeping position.
Roxanne’s position was not advertised as being available internally or in general, but rather was filled by the wife of the Vice Chairman of the Republican Town Committee, who is a close confidant of the First Selectman. Â Our reporter asked about the lack of advertising and she was told that Town Hall is not required to advertise open positions. Â Our reporter observed to the First Selectman and to his Administrative Assistant that, if only for appearance’s sake, she would have advertised the position. Â Asked about Lila’s qualifications for the position, the First Selectman answered that she was qualified for the position, having in the past worked as a bank teller.
As noted in Part I of this report, the Bookkeeper’s Assistant position was cut from 15 hours per week to 10 hours per week; Â however, since the Registrar of Voters also works 15 hours per week as a Registrar [ corrected to 10 hours per week plus any additional hours as required], the 25 hours per week make Lila eligible to qualify for the town pension plan. Â [The corrected total, 20 hours per week still make Lila eligible to qualify for the town pension plan.]
However, the Assistant Bookkeeper position has not been officially filled. Â Since May, the First Selectman’s Office has said that Lila Tuxbury is working as the Bookkeeper’s Assistant “on a trial basis.” Â When questioned further about this, our reporter was told that they wanted to see if the position worked out for both parties. Â As of the beginning of last week, July 12, the First Selectman confirmed that the position was still being filled on a trial basis.
Part-Time Administrative Assistant Hired For Land Use Office
The First Selectman commented several times since he took office that he believes that certain offices at Town Hall are overstaffed, specifically the Assessor’s Office and the Land Use Office. Â At the time that he eliminated the Administrative Assistant position in the Land Use Office he said that support staff would be cross-trained to work in different departments, and that the Land Use Office would receive administrative support in this way. Â However, a part-time Administrative Assistant position for the Land Use Office was advertised at the end of June and a new person has been hired for that position. Â The position is now a 15-hour per week position.
Our reporter checked in with the First Selectman’s Office about the original plan for the administrative support for the Land Use Office to be provided by other employees at Town Hall. Â She was told that that idea had been met with resistance by the employees concerned. Â The First Selectman’s solution appears to have been to contract out the town’s Assessor to Burlington and to hire a part-time Administrative Assistant for the Land Use Office.
Cut In Funding Of Tax Collector Assistant Line Item May Hurt Bottom Line
[Please see the comment submitted by the Tax Collector clarifying and correcting some of the information below regarding her department]
Another notice on the doors of Town Hall is from the Tax Collector’s Office and it informs visitors that Notary services will not be available in the Tax Collector’s Office during the month of July, the busiest month of the year for the Tax Collector. Â Our reporter stopped by the Tax Collector’s Office and Linda Sheffield informed her that the combination of cutting the funding in her Assistant line item, together with giving her Assistant the same raise as everyone else at Town Hall meant that this fiscal year, she will only be able to have her Assistant, Debbie Ventre work for 876 hours, rather than the 1030 hours Debbie worked last year. Â This, despite the record collections by the Tax Collector’s Office last year.
Linda said that because she had Debbie available to follow up on collections, he office brought in $314,807 in back taxes owed; the previous year they had only been able to collect $115,000 in back taxes owed. Â Her office also collected 98.5% of the adjusted grand levy; the Board of Finance assumed a 96% collection rate. Â Linda attributes the exceptional tax collections of her office directly to her having the extra help available to follow up on collections, either directly or through hiring marshals. Â This year, she said, they probably won’t be able to reach the same collection rates because she won’t have the same level of help from her assistant. Â Linda also confirmed that with the cut in help, she cannot spare the time during her busy month, July to carry out Notary duties, as she has done in the past. Â Requests for Notary services are being directed to the First Selectman’s Office.
Meeting The Challenge in Tough Financial Times
The First Selectman told our reporter that these were challenging times with the economy in recession. Â The cutbacks in staffing and in the staff’s hours are his administration’s way of meeting that challenge. Â However, one has to note that against this backdrop of cuts, his budget included 3.6% raise to non-union town employees, and he did not approach the employees’ union for concessions. Â Our reporter spoke with the union representative, Nancy Eldridge who confirmed that the union had expected to be approached for concessions, and that the union had hoped to have been able tosave the Administrative Assistant position in the Land Use Office. Â Nancy said that the First Selectman had never approached the union for concessions during the budget process and no concessions were offered by the union. Â [The union subsequently corrected this by saying that the First Selectman had asked for concessions on the health insurance, the union hoped to save the Administrative Assistant's position in the Land Use Office; this was not made negotiable by the First Selectman and so the union made no concessions. Â Subsequently, a part-time Administrative Assistant position was reinstated in the Land Use Office and has been filled.]
Part-Time Employees Also Eligible To Join Town Employees’ Union
During her discussions with the town employees’ union regarding staffing changes at Town Hall, our reporter was able to confirm that all part-time employees at Town Hall are eligible to join the employees’ union. Â The assumption had been that part-time employees had to work at least 20 hours per week to be eligible; however, Mike Brady, the employees’ union attorney, confirmed the following to our repoter:
“As the plain language of the statute states, only part-time employees who work on a seasonal basis are excluded from MERA (see definition of employee). One who is employed for a period of more than 120 days per calendar year is covered by MERA regardless of the number of hours worked per week.” Â Police Dept. of the Town of Windsor Locks v. Board of Labor Relations, 225 Conn. 297, 622 A2d 1005 (1993).
The town employees’ union representative confirmed that all existing and future part-time employees would be given the opportunity to join the employees’ union if they so wish.