GROTON — New Mayor Rachael Franco said she wants shared goals to guide the Town Council for the next two years.
“All of us here tonight will set the tone for the entire town with what we say and the decisions we make,” Franco said during a swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday. “Going forward, let’s hold ourselves accountable, conduct thoughtful analysis and advocate for making Groton a better place to live, work and enjoy life for everyone, while doing so with thoughtfulness, dignity, integrity and empathy.”
After three new members of the council were sworn in, the body elected Franco to serve as mayor, replacing outgoing Mayor Juan Melendez. Franco and Councilor Juliette Parker were both nominated for mayor, with Franco winning the seat in a 6-3 vote.
In November, Groton voters elected six Democratic incumbents to the council: Franco, Parker, Portia Bordelon, Dan Gaiewski, Bruce Jones and David McBride. They are now joined by three new Democratic councilors: Roscoe Merritt, Jill Rusk and Adam Puccino.
With Groton’s local government managed by Town Manager John Burt, the mayor’s main role is to serve as Town Council chair, making Franco responsible for setting the agenda and moderating debate among councilors.
It’s not a straightforward task. Residents have complained that the last council’s meetings dragged on as members were consumed with disagreements.
Discussions would devolve into calls for a “point of order” to stop other councilors from making their arguments, followed by arguments over the point of order, a procedure meant to bring order to a meeting but frequently used to the opposite effect in Groton.
Franco, now on her fourth term on the Town Council, said she wants the group to discuss its agenda for the next two years so they can have a shared focus and direction. Councilors don’t make achievements on their own, she said, they work as a body that shares both successes and challenges.
“We are a council of nine, so [the agenda] is what the body decides,” Franco said. “That’s how I look at it.”
Looking to set rules for the council’s term, some wanted to loosen the three-minute time limits on councilors’ comments, imposed as an attempt to keep them on task. McBride and Bordelon both advocated Tuesday for extending the time limits to five minutes.
Bordelon, who advocated for eliminating the limit entirely, said five minutes was a fair compromise that would help open up discussion while still keeping councilors in check. She said the change would also help the council during budget discussions and allow new members to ask questions as they adjust to their roles.
“We’re all adults,” Bordelon said. “To do our due diligence, we all need to be able to speak freely.”
That proposal was voted down 3-6, with councilors saying any changes to council rules should be evaluated by the rules committee.
Franco said the committee — made up of Parker, Jones and Puccino — would review the rules of the last council and recommend any changes they think are needed. She said whether to extend time limits is a decision for the whole council to make, but that she understands why the limits are in place.
“Some of our meetings tend to go very late,” Franco said. “So I understand why there is a time limit and why people would be in favor of that.”