More than a week has passed since the Town Council’s Aug. 21 meeting, and the fighting has finally settled down. The special meeting’s bark was certainly worse than its bite.
In the weeks leading up to the meeting, it felt as if pandemonium was going to break out with all the finger pointing, leaks, and arguments. In retrospect, it’s understandable. The town is at a clear turning point. When Garry Brumback leaves his position this winter, the town is going to transition to new leadership. Change is always hard, and transition rarely brings out the best in those who are suffering it.
There were rumors about a small group of councilors that were going to bend meeting rules to force their agenda. There were rumors that opponents were going to boycott the meeting so that they could take advantage of the charter’s quorum rules to thwart the vote. Both sides scrambled to get their way, and the residents of Southington were left wondering if they had any say in the discussion.
We were relieved when the meeting’s agenda was released late in the week, and filling the Town Manager position was conspicuously missing from the proposed discussion. We were equally relieved when the meeting day came, and there was no walk-out or protest. It was clear that feelings were still smarting on both sides, but we were very pleased to see the council push aside their feelings and conduct business as adults.
We think that the state and federal governments could learn a lot from Southington’s video feed. Ultimately, Southington’s councilors did their duty even though it was hard. That gives us high hopes for the next council meeting on Monday, Sept. 11.
We hope that this is a turning point in the discussion, and we look to our leaders to create a template out of this turmoil. We hope they use our town’s resources (including our human resources generalists) to create a precedent for high level job searches. We hope that they include residents in the discussion, even if it’s just to outline the progress and the way they came to decisions about process. As far as we see it, there are at least three issues that need to be decided.
First, the town needs to determine how to proceed with a search. Do we need a national search? A regional search? A local job posting? Is there a fair hiring process?
Second, we would like to hear a discussion about the transition. Should the council appoint an interim manager? If so, for how long? Can that appointment be extended if the job search isn’t completed by the end of the appointment? Since we have a Deputy Town Manager, does this become his responsibility once Brumback leaves? If we set a precedent now, this could be the standard for future searches.
Finally, we would love to hear a discussion about the impact of replacing the Town Manager. When Brumback was hired, the council created the Deputy Town Manager position, which Mark Sciota has faithfully executed for many years. Do we need to replace this position if it’s ever vacated? If so, should the position be outlined in the charter like the manager position is? Should we outline job duties and qualifications? Do we need a charter revision or is that excessive?
Years from now, when people look back on August 2017 in Southington, what will they think? Was the fighting just business as usual, or was it simply growing pains? When people think about this Town Council, what will be its legacy? Will we remember the fighting and the pomp and circumstance signifying nothing, or will we be left with an enduring blueprint created to address the town’s best interests?
Time will tell.