Published: 4/29/2022 11:41:54 PM
Modified: 4/29/2022 11:40:28 PM
NORWICH – The Selectboard has decided to hire a human resources consultant to develop recommendations related to complaints from town employees.
The action came Wednesday night after a nearly four-hour meeting that ended with an executive session that lasted well over an hour. Afterward, Selectboard Chairman Roger Arnold made a statement on behalf of the board.
“We have heard from our employees and also our town manager in ways that have made it clear that we need new ways of working together and in a respectful and supportive way,” Arnold said. “We also believe that we need to look at the internal structure of the organization and consider the town as a workplace, not just as a place of government.”
The board approved a contract with HR Happens, a Vermont firm run by Mark Heyman.
Town officials have declined to provide any details about the discord among town employees.
Last month, Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon reported the town hired a private investigator to look into sexual harassment allegations and that there had been conflict between supervisors and public works employees.
While declining to provide any details, Town Manager Rod Francis and Arnold both said Wednesday that the complaints that have been lodged need to be taken seriously.
“We’re taking our responsibility very seriously,” Arnold said. “The SB has received complaints. The nature of those complaints is not something I can comment on. “
It was the second lengthy private session in the past two meetings, both of which were called to deal with personnel issues.
After the first personnel discussion April 13, the board also issued a statement: “The Board takes seriously the concerns of all town employees, including the Town Manager, and is committed to ensuring a safe, healthy and welcoming work environment for all employees.”
It was then that board members Claudette Brochu and Arnold were tasked with finding a human resources consultant.
Heyman, on his website, says he has more than “20 years of business, labor and employment law and direct HR experience.”
He began his career as a labor and employment lawyer in the public sector, serving as deputy legal counsel to the Vermont State Employees Association. He later transitioned into a consultant who now specializes in HR solutions in a variety of environments.
Arnold said that uncertainty and anxiety caused by the pandemic, exacerbated by the turnover in key leadership areas, including the Department of Public Works, police department, finance and planning and zoning, have begun to wear on town employees.
“Staff are settling into new positions, and we are continuing to fill vacancies,” Arnold said. “In light of this, we recognize the need to improve our human resource abilities to successfully integrate new town employees and improve the workplace culture for all staff.”
Francis said the upheaval has created interpersonal challenges.
“Anytime you jumble up a lot of new personalities, there’s a lot of smoothing out with how people are going to interact with each other,” Francis said. “It’s part of the normal pattern of dealing with change. And there’s been a lot of change. “
Francis said he couldn’t comment on the nature of the complaints but said he and the board considered them all to be serious.
“In the minds of the people who have presented complaints, I’m sure they’re serious, and the board and I are taking them seriously,” Francis said. “There is a heightened interest on the part of the board and me. We’re moving briskly. “
The consultant’s review is expected to move quickly.
Employees will be interviewed, and the board and Francis stressed that the process will be independent of interference from town officials.
“It’s one of those moments where I believe the process needs to run its course,” Arnold said. “Be assured; the consultant is independent. We’re committed to a potentially long process. I make no assumptions. “
Darren Marcy can be reached at email@example.com or 802-291-4992.