North Branford to Post Rec Director Job; Council Debates, Reinstates Rec Commissioners
On June 18, the issue was debated and discussed by members of North Branford's Town Council including (l-r) Mayor Mike Doody, Deputy Mayor Rose Marie Angeloni and commissioners Thomas Zampano, Joseph Faughnan and Marie Diamond. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound)
On June 18, North Branford's Town Council voted 7-3 to reinstate two Parks and Recreation commissioners who resigned May 28 on concerns other commission members were exceeding their area of responsibility and impairing the role of the Recreation Director. Similar concerns were also noted in a subsequent retirement notice, effective July 12, given to the Town by the Recreation Director.
While some council members, including Mayor Mike Doody, expressed hope the director will rescind her retirement notice or extend her stay through critical events including summer camps and the upcoming Potato and Corn Festival, the council also acknowledged the process which needs to be followed: North Branford needs to advertise for a new director.
Town Manager Mike Paulhus said on June 18 he was finalizing the job description for the position, which would be advertised due to the retirement notice tendered by Recreation Director Lauren Munro.
"One way or another we're going into the market to look for a replacement; whether it's July 12, or sometime thereafter. I don't know if the Director is going to decide to extend beyond, or how far beyond [July 12]. It's too early to tell pending a discussion on the commission itself," Paulhus told the council.
Munro, who last spoke out about her decision at the June 4 Town Council meeting, and later spoke with Paulhus, who is undertaking a Town Council-requested investigation into the issues swirling around the commission, has to date not indicated she would be willing to extend or rescind her notice. A call to Munro from The Sound on June 21 was not returned. Until her intended date of retirement, Munro is remaining on the job, said Paulhus.
Paulhus also advised the council on June 18 that he felt both commissioners who had resigned, chairman Dr. Brian Lynch and commissioner Victor Palma, would return if they were reinstated and a review with the commission on its advisory capacity was implemented. Lynch, a commission member of nearly 25 years, spoke about his and Palma's reasons for resigning during citizens statements at the June 4 Town Council meeting.
On June 18, despite concerns from Deputy Mayor Rose Marie Angeloni, who also is the council's recreation commission liaison, the council voted (8-1) to add the two commissioner reinstatement items to the agenda that night. Angeloni voted against adding the new agenda items.
"I said it at the last meeting – since it is under investigation right now, we should have never heard from them at the [June 4] meeting, because it was very one-sided," said Angeloni. "And it's interesting that most of the people who are saying things about it have never been to one Park and Recreation meeting. And that's all I'm going to say right now. Because I've been to many of those meetings. And we only heard one side; and that is not fair."
According to minutes of the May 28 commission meeting, the tipping point for Lynch and Palma came after a disagreement broke out between them and commissioners John Onofrio and Steven Torino regarding managing the department budget. Lynch and Palma felt strongly it was the director's realm; while Onofrio and Torino felt the commission should have a greater role. The fifth commissioner at the meeting was Vice Chair Michelle Provencher.
On June 4, Lynch told the Town Council "micromanaging" of the director by the other commissioners also extended to interrupting and impacting her day-to-day work.
On June 18, Angeloni said her concerns about the council voting to reinstate Lynch and Palma included the council's original discussion on June 4 that there would be no action on the commission until an investigation into the matter was concluded. As Paulhus and Town Attorney Vincent Marino indicated on June 18, the investigation was still underway.
During the council's discussion on voting to reappoint Lynch to a new three-year term, Angeloni said, "...you get mad at someone, you don't like someone and you quit; and then say you'll come back. That's kind of what it looks like, right now."
" I thought part of the discussion at our last meeting was we wouldn't appoint anyone while the investigation was going on, and the investigation is still going on," Angeloni continued. "I don't see the urgency that we have to appoint someone tonight. It has nothing to do with the individual. I just don't think it's right we allow one person to speak at the last meeting. We were going into the investigation, and we only had one side of the story, and now we're appointing this person based on an incomplete investigation. And I just thought the positions were going to stay open until the investigation was complete."
Councilman George Miller agreed, saying, "That is what we said last time. We wouldn't make an appointment until the investigation was complete."
Angeloni, Miller and councilman Joseph Faughnan voted against reappointing Lynch.
Ahead of the vote to reappoint Palma to his current term ending December 2019, Angeloni said she was adding "attendance history" to her concerns.
"When you go back from January of 2018 through May, their last meeting, and I look at it, I'm just not sure that Victor would be a candidate I would reappoint, based on attendance, along with the other reason of I didn't think we were going to fill these positions," while the investigation was open, said Angeloni.
"Well, we have until the end of the year to see how that attendance improves," noted Doody.
Angeloni, Miller and Faughnan voted against reappointing Palma.
As to next steps, the intent of the council is to bring all of the commissioners together for a training workshop, overseen by Paulhus and Marino, to review their expectations, roles and responsibilities as an advisory board.
"I read the charter and certainly the Parks and Recreation commission, they're an advisory board. They're not an active commission. They do nothing with budget, nothing with the Senior Center, nothing with the Potato Festival. They are an advisory board," noted Doody, reiterating,"...nothing with the budget, nothing with the director, nothing with any other personnel. They have to realize that. That has to be explained to them, and they have to understand that. And I think if they were instructed in that area, we might not have these problems today."
Councilman Thomas Zampano said the Town should be taking the same steps for all boards and commissions.
"I've brought this up [before] -- after an election, after board appointments and commission appointments, there needs to be an orientation. Because everyone thinks or believes or wants to do the right thing, but not everybody knows what path to follow, and what the playbook looks like," said Zampano.