Part II - Questions 5-7
Our Town Manager answered by email the questions posed by the previous post, Union Negotiations - 7 questions for the Town Manager. Thanks Mr. Durfree! This is Part II. Part I is here.
5. How do health insurance benefits provided by the Town to police and DPW workers compare with such benefits provided to similar employees in other Upper Valley municipalities? Has there been a study or any research on the topic recently? Is that study or research available to the public?
At this time, I don’t have an answer to your question. I’m not aware of any recent study. There is a current policy for the provision of health care benefits to Town employees eligible for such benefit. That benefit remains in place until changed. There are some members of the Board that would like to discuss this topic during the budget development process. Also, while collective bargaining has yet to formally begin related to Union employees, it may be a topic for discussion by either party once proposals are prepared. At this time, that is premature and, thus, unknown.
6. The Open Meeting law limits executive session to matters that "premature general public knowledge would clearly place the public body or a person involved at a substantial disadvantage" [emphasis added]. The Selectboard has allocated 90 minutes to discussing the Negotiated Agreement in the past week. That seems a long time to discuss negotiating strategy. Will the Town be more transparent and disclose the specific topics to be discussed or have been discussed on Sunday and last Wednesday?
The discussion/development of positions, strategy, etc. related to collective bargaining is an item the Board can enter into executive session to discuss. There is no limitation to the timeframe the Board may opt to take regarding such issue(s). Once the parties involved in collective bargaining get together, that is, their initial meeting, the parties will agree to the ground rules that will be used during negotiation. In my experience, all collective bargaining has been held in executive session (or, some form of deliberative session). To hold deliberations in public session both parties would have to mutually agree to such ground rule. While I know of a few cases in Vermont where collective bargaining is conducted in public session, my understanding is that those instances are the exception. Most collective bargaining is accomplished in closed session. Personally, I can work in either environment.
7. Does the Town intend to follow the example of the Norwich School Board and conduct collective bargaining negotiations in public session? Why or why not?
I can only answer this question once ground rules are established between the parties. Again, there has to be mutual agreement between the parties as to the ground rules for negotiation, including whether collective bargaining is conducted publicly or not.