NORWICH – The Selectboard had a long list on its agenda this week, both figuratively and literally.
The Norwich Selectboard held a nearly four-hour business meeting on Wednesday to discuss a number of pressing issues, from the search for a new city manager to the upcoming budget season, which the city must undertake without a chief financial officer.
The agenda – characterized by board member Aaron Lamperti as “very ambitious” – also included meetings with city department heads, discussions of the city’s bridge and snowplow services town and a discussion of whether the Selectboard wants to add a regular public “question and answer” session to its meetings, where residents can raise any issues of concern.
It was the board’s first regular business meeting, and second meeting overall, without the presence of a chief executive.
Rod Francis, the outgoing city manager, served his last day in Norwich on Monday. On October 24, the council announced a separation agreement with Francis which cited “unique difficulties affecting the operation of the city and the role of the manager”.
The council has authorized Chairwoman Marcia Calloway to advertise for an interim city manager locally and online on city recruitment websites.
So far, the council’s initial efforts to find an interim nominee have been unsuccessful. Vice President Mary Lawton said she contacted the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and Municipal Resources Inc., a company based in central New Hampshire, but neither organization had an available candidate to recommend.
Calloway has also contacted officials in Thetford to discuss the possibility of sharing the services of their city manager, Bryan Gazda, although on Wednesday Calloway said she had not received a response.
“We’re really not well positioned to have a pool of candidates, or even one that we know of,” Lawton said.
The board said it hoped to have some initial requests to consider at its Nov. 22 meeting.
The board did not discuss who would serve as the interim manager to oversee day-to-day city operations until an interim is hired. Lamperti raised this issue at the beginning of the discussion with the manager, but the conversation never happened.
Calloway confirmed to Valley News in an email that the board has not named anyone to fill the position of interim manager. In an emergency, people should contact Police Chief Wade Cochran or Fire Chief Alex Northern, Calloway said.
Cochran, who was hired last month, told the Valley News that he has been in constant communication with Calloway since Francis left.
The board also began preparations for its annual budget process this week. The next financial year begins on July 1, 2023 and the budget must be approved by voters at the municipal assembly next March.
Calloway, concerned about the lack of a city manager and finance director, suggested reviving a city finance committee to help with ‘the heavy lifting’ of creating a new budget .
The council rejected this proposal, particularly in view of the deadlines for drawing up a budget.
“My feeling is that we want to keep this as simple as possible,” Lamperti said of the finance committee’s suggestion. “It doesn’t seem simpler. It seems too complicated.
Lamperti recommended that city departments base their proposals on their current year budgets, with a small percentage increase on budget lines to account for inflation.
During the final hour of the meeting, Calloway sounded out the board’s interest in adding a public question-and-answer session to board meetings, in addition to the existing time set aside for public comment.
This session, proposed by Calloway, was requested by a number of Norwich residents who have previously criticized the council and city administration over poor communication.
“I’d like to see us move forward so that we work toward transparency and ensuring that the board is going to use best practices in whatever issue we’re talking about,” Calloway said.
Council members said they would only be receptive to a question-and-answer session if it replaced comment periods during other discussions on the agenda.
“Otherwise it’s just another 20 minutes where we don’t do business, and people will have their comments later as well,” Lamperti said.
Council members noted that residents were allowed to ask questions and provide comments throughout the meeting on Wednesday, which contributed significantly to the length of the meeting.
“I feel like this whole meeting went like a question and answer session,” said board member Roger Arnold.
Council member Robert Gere added that the council has often been unable to answer questions from the public, such as in cases of employee confidentiality or legal matters, which has led to further friction between the council and residents. .
“When we can’t respond with authority as a board, it quickly disintegrates into an argumentative conversation,” Gere said. “It gets us nowhere and makes people more angry.”
Calloway said his primary intention was to start the conversation, as a show of good faith to community members who have asked for greater transparency.
Patrick Adrian can be reached at 603-727-3216 or [email protected]