Sent: Saturday, August 30, 2014 12:19 AM
To: Nancy Kramer
Subject: Please calm the discussion down
Chip ‐ thank you for your calm, wise words in the Norwich listserv this week.
To all of the Selectboard:
I ask you to remember two things:
1. We continue to experience the echoes of having transitioned from a Selectboard‐run town to a Town Manager structure. Without I am not taking sides here ‐ It is important that Selectboard members respect a definition of Selectboard vs. Town Manager spheres of decision‐making and make public which “hats” you are wearing individually, and as a group. This doesn’t mean that the Selectboard has no power. Only that I hope you will continually talk about conflicts using the lens of “are we still getting used to Town Manager governance, and reverting to old feelings about our degree of authority?”
2. If you are going to hold a Town Manager accountable, don’t evaluate someone based on expectations you didn’t tell them in advance. Again, I’m not taking sides or assuming that only the Town Manager is right. To the contrary, there may well be issues to discuss on both sides. But make sure that you have a clear agreement about who has what authority. Don’t use what a friend described to me as the “electric dog fence model of disciplining an employee” ‐ that is, telling them they violated a boundary that you never told them was a boundary in the first place. Maybe a boundary has been violated ‐ but don’t hold discipline someone for an interpretation that you didn’t agree on in advance.
Otherwise, if it’s a question of communication styles or individual conflicts, please behave in a way that doesn’t make us front page headlines again.
As for the incident where the Town Manager stepped in when a member of the public asked a town employee a question during a forum on the Main Street paving: I did feel that there was a moment of abruptness and awkwardness there. Perhaps the town employee felt cut off, and perhaps there was a missed opportunity for dialogue. But one could also interpret the Town Manager’s stepping in as protecting a town employee from being put in an awkward position by a direct question from the public with no warning.
Again ‐ there may well be things to be corrected. But to get upset over one interaction overlooks the courage and intentionality with which the Town Manager had called an open community forum in the first place, scheduled a second successful town forum soon after, responded to the community’s nearly‐unanimous concerns by scaling back the paving project, and listened respectfully to the public the whole time. This is the kind of dialogue that should happen, and to slam him for one comment is an over‐reaction without credit for 4 hours of successful community dialogue that he didn’t have to offer but chose to host because he believed it was healthy.
Please keep things in perspective. If there are larger concerns, establish a fair process for looking into them. In the meantime, don’t let one or two people drive a process into high‐stakes territory.