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    Sunday, August 14, 2022

    Groton Town Council plans to bring in mediator to help meetings run more smoothly

    Groton — The Town Council plans to bring in a mediator to help meetings run more smoothly.

    Town Councilor Juliette Parker, who made the referral, said a mediator could help guide the council to have more productive meetings.

    "We've had some interesting meetings, and there are times that things are not moving productively or effectively," Parker said at Tuesday's Town Council Committee of the Whole meeting.

    She said she believes the councilors need someone to guide them and give them tips on how best to approach matters, because she thinks "we're setting ourselves back, and meetings shouldn’t take a long time."

    While the council has a lot of discussions, she thinks the council can get through meetings more efficiently and take care of town business if they are even more prepared than they normally are. 

    "I know when I leave a meeting my anxiety’s up, and I don’t think we've accomplished anything at all, and I really need us to get back on track, and I love what I do for the public," Parker added. "I love volunteering, and this is a volunteer job for everyone, and some of us work 40 hours a week, plus sometimes, and we need to all be respectful of each other’s time and the public’s time."

    Town Manager John Burt said he has researched options since the referral was made in January. He said the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has an attorney that it highly recommends to municipalities, and his usual rate of $450 per hour is reduced to $275 per hour for municipalities. Burt said he needs to know the extent of the work before estimating the cost.

    While the work ultimately will depend on what the attorney/mediator finds when he comes to Groton, his initial tasks would include reviewing footage of meetings, acquainting himself with the town charter and council rules, meeting individually with councilors and possibly in small groups, Burt explained. The attorney would then listen to what councilors say and provide a written report, and potentially have a meeting with the council to give guidance.

    Burt said he would get an outline of the potential scope of the work, which the Town Council then could tailor. He said he spoke with Thomas Hennick, public education officer at the Freedom of Information Commission, who told him Freedom of Information law would allow a limited amount of work to be done in executive session.

    Town Councilor Rachael Franco said she was in support of a mediator and she is comfortable with the work being done publicly. But she added that since it is a critique of how people are doing their jobs, it's up to individuals, and she thinks their thoughts on whether or not they would want it done publicly should be respected.

    Burt said the council could decide which way it wants to proceed.

    Franco said that at Saturday's budget meeting, there was a lot of controversial items that people were passionate about, but there was a lot of respectful, professional disagreement.

    "We could disagree, and we did it in a very professional way, very respectful way, and I think that’s what we’re supposed to be doing, and I welcome more of that," Franco said. "So I am absolutely in favor of this, and I know it's going to cost money but I think that's the price we have to pay to get ourselves on track to be able to move forward."

    Town Councilor Bruce Jones added his support and said he thinks it's a good idea.

    Parker said the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities also is a great resource for training on topics, such as Freedom of Information law, and she encouraged councilors to take some of the courses if they have the opportunity.

    Town Councilor Melinda Cassiere also mentioned that the conference offers an excellent ethics class.

    "We've had some questions about that in the past so I recommend it, and also I hope if we do bring this individual on that councilors will be open to recommendations," Cassiere said.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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