Valley News – Norwich hires human resources consultant after complaints from city workers

Published: 04/29/2022 23:41:54

Modified: 04/29/2022 23:40:28

NORWICH – The Selectboard has decided to hire a human resources consultant to develop recommendations related to complaints from city employees.

The action came Wednesday evening after a nearly four-hour meeting that culminated in an executive session that lasted more than an hour. Subsequently, the chair of the selection committee, Roger Arnold, made a statement on behalf of the board.

“We heard from our employees as well as our city manager in a way that made it clear that we need new ways to work together and in a respectful and supportive way,” Arnold said. “We also think we need to look at the internal structure of the organization and see the city as a place to work, not just a place of government.”

The board approved a contract with HR Happens, a Vermont company run by Mark Heyman.

City officials declined to provide details about the discord among city employees.

Last month, Valley News Columnist Jim Kenyon reported that the city had hired a private investigator to investigate allegations of sexual harassment and that there had been a dispute between supervisors and public works employees.

While declining to provide details, City Manager Rod Francis and Arnold both said Wednesday that the complaints that have been filed should be taken seriously.

“We take our responsibility very seriously,” Arnold said. “The SB has received complaints. The nature of these complaints is not something I can comment on.

This was the second long private session of the last two meetings, both convened to deal with personnel matters.

After the first discussion with staff on April 13, the council also issued a statement: “Council takes the concerns of all city employees, including the city manager, seriously and is committed to ensuring an environment of safe, healthy and welcoming workplace for all employees.

It was then that board members Claudette Brochu and Arnold were tasked with finding a human resources consultant.

Heyman, on his website, says he has over “20 years of experience in business, labor and employment law and direct HR.”

He began his career as a public sector labor and employment attorney, serving as associate legal counsel for the Vermont State Employees Association. He then became a consultant and now specializes in HR solutions in various environments.

Arnold said the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the pandemic, exacerbated by turnover in key areas of management, including the Department of Public Works, the police department, finance and planning and zoning, began to burden city employees.

“Staff are moving into new positions and we continue to fill vacancies,” Arnold said. “In light of this, we recognize the need to improve our human resource capabilities to successfully onboard new city employees and improve the work culture for all staff.”

Francis said the upheaval created interpersonal challenges.

“Any time you mix in a lot of new personalities, there’s a lot of smoothing with how people are going to interact with each other,” Francis said. “It’s part of the normal change management pattern. And there have been many changes. »

Francis said he could not comment on the nature of the complaints, but that he and the council considered them all serious.

“In the minds of people who have filed complaints, I’m sure they are serious, and the board and I take them seriously,” Francis said. “There is increased interest from the board and myself. We are moving quickly. »

The consultant’s review is expected to move forward quickly.

Employees will be interviewed, and the board and Francis stressed that the process will be independent of interference from city officials.

“This is one of those times when I think the process needs to take its course,” Arnold said. “Rest assured; the consultant is independent. We are engaging in a potentially lengthy process. I’m not making any assumptions.

Darren Marcy can be reached at [email protected] or 802-291-4992.

Comments are closed.