Editorial: A big deal or just nitpicky?

There’s been a lot of controversy when it comes to Town Council appointments, and one inquisitive reader recently called us to ask us why we think it’s such a big deal. It really was a good question, and it got us thinking.

The reader’s question surrounded the way that the Town Council appoints top municipal officials. When it came to the Republican hiring of a Town Manager, charges of illegal meetings led to a Freedom of Information complaint in Hartford (that still hasn’t been ruled on by the commission) and high voter turnout in a municipal election that ended one party’s dominance on the council. Now, when a Republican levied the same charges now that Democrats appointed a Town Attorney (the same way that 11 other councils appointed a Town Attorney since the 1980s) debate began once more.

Is it a big deal or just nitpicky procedure? We’re not lawyers, but neither are most of our councilors. That’s why we have consistently asked that they include the town resource officers—like the human resource generalist—into a public conversation. After all, both parties at one point or another felt the town’s procedures were wrong.

When it comes to hiring in the public sector, businesses have human resource departments and employee handbooks that fill three ring binders. Big and small businesses feel the sting of lawsuits that force them to prove that they have fair hiring practices. Even the Town of Southington has a human resource generalist that combs through every hire the town makes to ensure that it’s fair and compliant with state and federal laws—all except the highest level “appointments.”

Equal opportunity has been a matter of discussion in the courts ever since the federal government established Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and it has been re-established and enhanced by thousands of lawsuits, congressional acts, and even by Executive Order. The law protects applicants and employees of most private employers, state and local governments, educational institutions, employment agencies and labor organizations from discrimination in the hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment. The Town of Southington, as a local government, is subject to these laws, and the human resource generalist usually is consulted to make sure the town complies…except for council hirings.

So, does an “appointment” fall under these Equal Opportunity Employment laws? We don’t see that it was ever publically addressed. In fact, appointing the former Deputy Town Manager to the office of Town Manager—both paid jobs—was actually a promotion. Promotion procedures need to be fair to all applicants. Was there anyone else that wanted the job? Were they kept from applying because of the town’s procedures? Whether councilors talk hiring in executive session (which they didn’t) or discuss the process to ensure that it complies with state and federal laws (which they didn’t), it should have been at least discussed once protests began.

Sure, the town has done these sorts of hirings for years—long before any Equal Opportunity Employment laws—and maybe that’s why nobody ever looked at the procedures. We haven’t found anywhere on the record that any council has discussed it. Instead, we found members of both parties saying the process isn’t fair or decisions are made erratically or emotionally. The party in the minority always points out the injustice, and the party in control never seems to care.

We have only asked that they address it. We’ve asked that they include the human resource generalist in Town Manager hirings (other towns, like Berlin, do this). Is that nitpicky? No.

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