While acknowledging the importance of recognizing long-time public servants with an annual employee recognition lunch, the Town Council decided the Town must find a way to do so off-the-clock.
“I believe the issue here does not reflect the council’s opinion about recognizing employees. The issue is more about closing the Municipal Center on the taxpayers’ dime, which has been criticized in the past,” Councilor David Fischer said.
Councilor Thom Cardon agreed that it’s important to recognize town employees, but noted residents have diverse schedules and are dependent on the Municipal Center hours.
“I have received awards in the past and they were never presented during work hours,” he said. “I think closing the Municipal Center is not the way to do it.”
The Council voted 5-2 to keep the Municipal Center open during business hours unless an emergency warrants closing.
Acting Town Administrator Larry Budreau brought the issue to the Council at their Oct. 7 meeting as a recommendation that the Town work to improve advance notice to the public of the building closure.
Budreau said while he regrets a few customers suffer an inconvenience due to the closure and the Town is concerned about customer satisfaction, the only way to get everyone together at the same time during the workday is to close.
“Is it the right thing to do? Should we continue the tradition? The value of assembling our employees weighed against the public’s inconvenience of closing the Municipal Center for three out of 2,250 of its annual open hours is a judgment,” he said.
Councilors Phyllis Katsakiores and Joshua Bourdon voted against the motion.
Bourdon said the luncheon is a low-cost opportunity to get everyone together and recognize standout employees, noting happy workers are more productive and successful.
Bourdon said he didn’t even approve of having a public discussion about restricting the Town’s ability to hold the luncheon during business hours because it could make town employees feel as though the Council doesn’t support the event.
“I don’t think there’s any question we should show appreciation to the Town’s employees and give awards, but I don’t see why it can’t be done at 5 p.m.,” said Councilor Michael Fairbanks, noting in addition to the inconvenience of closing the Municipal Center and about $900 in costs associated with hosting the banquet, the taxpayers must also pay the wages of the approximately 150 employees who attend the luncheon on-the-clock.
Kataskiores said she believes the Town does a sufficient job of making the public aware of the closure in advance each year, and that she doesn’t remember hearing complaints about the luncheon in the 15 years since the annual tradition began.
“I have been coming to the Town Council meetings for 20 years and I have heard a lot of complaints about the building closing,” Councilor Al Dimmock said. “I heard people complaining about it at the last one.”