GROTON – After a number of tense and contentious recent meetings the Groton Town Council is considering hiring a mediator.
Councilor Juliette Parker said at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday night that the council has been “setting ourselves back,” and could benefit from having someone come in to guide them or offer advice on how to better approach controversial issues.
“We’ve had some interesting meetings, and there are times that things are not moving productively or effectively,” Parker said.
Parker said her request was not a criticism of Mayor Juan Melendez, Jr., who she said is doing a “great job.” But Parker said meetings are not running smoothly, and that she has heard concerns from the public about how the council handles its business.
“I know when I leave a meeting, my anxieties are up, and I don’t think we’ve accomplished anything at all,” Parker said. “And I really need us to get back on track.”
Groton Town Manager John Burt said he has spoken with an attorney recommended by the Connecticut Council of Municipalities. The attorney, who would charge $275 an hour, could review footage from past meetings, council rules and the town charter, before meeting with individual councilors or in small groups.
Burt said he spoke with Tom Hennick at the state’s Freedom of Information Commission, who said those meetings with small groups could be held in executive session, and meetings with individual councilors would not be public.
Councilors present at the Tuesday night meeting spoke in favor of the idea.
Councilor Rachael Franco said that she remembers meetings running smoothly for the first two years she was on the council, but said things had changed over the past two years and have become more difficult as time has gone on. She said she would welcome any constructive criticism on how she could help the council work better as a whole.
Franco said the council’s budget meeting last Saturday was an example of how meetings should run.
“We could disagree, but we did it in a professional way, a very respectful way,” said Franco. “I think that’s what we’re supposed to be doing, and I welcome more of that. So, I am absolutely in favor of this, and I know it’s gonna cost money, but I think that’s the price we have to pay to get ourselves on track to be able to move forward.”
Councilor Melinda Cassiere asked whether the town could use its own attorney, and Burt said it was better to get an outside perspective. Cassiere agreed, and said she was in favor of a mediator.
Burt asked the council to provide him with goals, and an idea of what they would like to see in the process, and he would try to get a better idea of the costs before returning with a proposal.