Board delays Weston first selectman’s hiring power

Weston’s Board of Selectmen, Brian Gordon, Chris Spaulding and Stephan Grozinger, turn their attention to Town Administrator Jonathan Luiz while discussing hiring policy. — Gregory Menti photo

Weston’s Board of Selectmen, Brian Gordon, Chris Spaulding and Stephan Grozinger, turn their attention to Town Administrator Jonathan Luiz while discussing hiring policy. — Gregory Menti photo

Weston’s Board of Selectmen delayed any action on an agenda item that would have authorized the first selectman to “hire or dismiss paid employees other than officers, heads of department, or employees who do not report directly or indirectly to the Board of Selectmen,” according to the town charter.

At the board’s special meeting on Monday, Dec. 4, First Selectman Chris Spaulding said the town charter authorization would allow him to approve hires for some positions without approval of the entire Board of Selectmen.

Since the authorization was not passed, any future town hire will have to come before the entire Board of Selectmen for an interview.

The action is pursuant to section 5.1 of the town charter, and according to Spaulding, the section isn’t about “major hires that report directly to the board” but rather employees who report to department directors.

“This provision has been used in the past. During the previous administration, we voted on it in a restricted way,” said Spaulding. “There were some appointments made without the full board voting on it.”

According to Town Administrator Jonathan Luiz, the provision was added to the charter during its last revision, in 2014.

Luiz said the power was used by former First Selectman Nina Daniel on a “case-by-case” basis, and added it was mostly used for “seasonal employees” such as seasonal recreation and seasonal public works staff.

If approved, the provision would allow Spaulding to confirm hires for all positions in town except the following: town administrator, all police employees, finance director, tax assessor, tax collector, library director, parks and recreation director, public works director, social services director, youth services director, town engineer, fire marshal, building inspector, land use director, senior center director, animal control officer, and tree warden.

According to Luiz, all the positions that could be hired without full Board of Selectmen approval are “merit-based hires.”

“For every case there is an advertisement, we’d have minimum qualifications and those folks who are most qualified would be interviewed by myself and the department head,” said Luiz. “We’d then bring the finalist to the first selectman and say, ‘This was the process,’ and ‘Here’s who we’d like to hire.’”

Luiz said background checks for these positions are done through the police department.

Selectman Stephan Grozinger expressed reservations about the language in the provision. “I’d think that something as serious as this would be written more clearly [in the charter],” he said. “I have an interpretive issue with it.”

Spaulding said the intention of the authorization was to “minimize bureaucratic paperwork” for the board of selectmen, but he was “happy to not exercise” the provision if Grozinger had serious concerns.

“We can wait and see if at some point you want to put this in effect because you get tired of interviewing all the candidates,” said Spaulding.

Grozinger said he may be open to enacting the provision in the future, but confirmed that he had concerns at this time.

Luiz said the timing is often tough for seasonal hires like lifeguards, public works employees and camp counselors and said the board should consider allowing this provision for those employees.

“With seasonal positions you probably aren’t going to be interested in a high schooler’s résumé,” said Luiz. “At that point it becomes such a formality.”

Despite Luiz’s point on seasonal hires, the meeting ended with no action. But Grozinger assured the board that he’d be willing to revisit the provision in the coming months.

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