Town Manager’s Appointments Process Questioned

Reappointment recommendations to the Personnel Board by Town Manager Paul Bockelman were called into question by Town Councilors late on Monday because one of the nominees had already served 14 years and was being recommended for another 3-year term.

Darcy Dumont, Chair of the Town Services and Outreach (TSO) Committee that reviews appointments before they go to the full Council, had opposed one of the Town Manager’s five reappointments because the nominee — Tony Butterfield — had already served 14 years on the Personnel Board. The other four members of TSO had supported all five of Bockelman’s reappointments.

Bockelman’s reasoning for recommending another 3-year term for Butterfield was that his continued service on the Board is “crucial to assisting the new Human Resources Director” and that Bockelman relies on Butterfield for advice on important personnel issues.

During the discussion, Bockelman acknowledged that he had not advertised the vacancies — which were the result of expired terms — nor interviewed for the positions. “I saw these as reappointments so I did not advertise them,” he said. Bockelman also said that he does not believe in term limits for committees.

Reading from the Appointed Committee Handbook, Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke pointed out that “if a person is completing a second term, and there are other qualified applicants, preference would be given to a newcomer.” Hanneke also referred to the section of the Charter that requires the advertising of all vacancies for at least 14 days. 

In an effort to find a compromise, Hanneke first proposed switching the terms so that Butterfield would get a one-year term while another member would get a 3-year term. When it was deemed that such a change by the Council was not permitted, Hanneke instead proposed rejecting the appointment of Butterfield while accepting the other four appointments, but the motion failed with nine opposed, two in favor (Hanneke and Dumont), one abstention (Schoen), and one absent (Swartz).

Pat De Angelis vociferously critiqued Bockelman’s actions, recalling that he had not recommended a reappointment to the Disability Access Committee because the member had already served multiple terms. “I feel very strongly that you need to come up with criteria that you will use consistently or this type of thing will happen again and I won’t support your decision,” De Angelis said. 

While Steve Schreiber supported Bockelman’s “ability to field the best possible team,” he agreed that an expiring term equates to a vacancy and hence should be advertised. “I hope the Town Manager hears that concern,” he said.

The full slate of reappointments was ultimately approved 10-2-1, with Hanneke and Dumont the two dissenting votes.

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2 thoughts on “Town Manager’s Appointments Process Questioned

  1. Thank you for reporting on this important issue. And kudos to Councilors Hanneke and Dumont for voting their disapproval. The problems in the appointment process are even deeper than what was reported here, though.

    Not only has the Town Council never rejected a nomination by the Town Manager for a board or committee appointment, they have done so without knowing who was in the pool of applicants. The Town Manager has refused to make public the names of those who apply to serve on boards and committees citing his “policy” to only reveal the identity of his chosen nominees.

    If the Council and the public does not know everyone who applied for a position, how can we know if the Town Manager’s choices were sound?

    When I and others have requested this information, the Town’s lawyers (KP Law) have come to the defense of the Town Manager claiming that these are “personnel information” relating to “employment” and therefore “are appropriately being withheld from disclosure”.

    When the names of all applicants are kept secret, however, there is nothing to stop this or any future Town Manager from stacking boards and committees with individuals who are partial to their own agenda, and to block those with a different perspective.

    The Town Council should remedy this lack of transparency, conduct proper oversight, and require that the names of all applicants for all appointments be made available to them, and to us.

  2. Noteworthy is that those who have applied to be on committees have been asked to complete surveys about the process. It would be interesting to see what this survey data says. I know in providing my own feedback my comments reflected those of DeAngelis- there is no criteria. There is no rubric. More transparency is needed about the decision making process.

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