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The new Board of Selectmen is working through hiring practices.

Cheshire Selectmen Trying to Set Consistent Hiring Process

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen started to nail down the town's municipal hiring process at Tuesday's meeting. 
 
There had been a slight delay in the process as Chairman Robert Ciskowski had missed the previous two meetings and the board wanted to wait for his input.
 
The town was hit with an Open Meeting Law complaint in its hiring process of new Highway Department Superintendent Bob Navin and was threatened with another in the recent hiring of another Highway Department employee. The second complaint was never made as the interview process was deemed acceptable legally but the board felt the process lacked clarity and communication between themselves and Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV.
 
Ciskowski was clear about what he felt was within St. John's purview.
 
"In the agreement that the administrator has with the town he has certain powers and duties to handle personnel decisions and things like that. If we're going to change or modify how things are done, I think it falls under changing ... the present agreement the administrator has and that he uses to perform his duties," he said on Tuesday.
 
The comment was made in response to a motion Selectman Ron DeAngelis made to have discussions regarding the hiring process in executive session as he felt it would impact the contract of St. John and would fall under the executive session standards.
 
Selectwoman Michelle Francesconi wanted to use an executive session to get a clear delineation of duties and expectations of the town administrator position and the board as it pertains to the hiring process.
 
"Ed deserves clarity in terms of knowing what is in his jurisdiction. That is the sole purpose of this discussion regarding the hiring procedures, to make sure that we don't end up with a situation like we did with the highway employee," she said. "In order to adequately address the issues that exist and eliminate those question marks, we would have to discuss the job description."
 
Ciskowski believed, and the rest of the board agreed, that St. John was well within his contract as town administrator to interview candidates for the highway position but wants the town to solidify a process definitively.
 
"I've been over your agreement, I think the way you handled it, with that agreement, I think you were certainly within your powers and prerogative. I'm not questioning that. I think the board would like to see if that's the way you want it done," he said. "The power the administrator has now, I am sensing [the board] wants to discuss that, the procedure?" 
 
When the highway superintendent was hired, the entire screening interview process took place with the full board present in executive session, which does indeed violate Open Meeting Law. The board has acknowledged this and will be taking an informational class regarding those laws as a result. The laborer/driver position candidates were interviewed by St. John, DeAngelis, and Navin. They then made a recommendation to the board. This does not constitute an Open Meeting violation -- because there was no quorum of the Board of Selectmen -- but board members felt they should have been made aware the interviews were taking place before the process started.
 
St. John read to the board directly from his job description but assured them the final decision is always theirs.
 
"I would enjoy some clarification too for the hiring process. Where it says in my job description, 'approve, screen, and recommend personnel to the Board of Selectmen for appointment,' that's what happened," he said. "The ultimate hiring and firing authority has always rested with the Board of Selectmen. Certainly if a person was recommended and the board wasn't satisfied with that appointment, the board is always free to reject them. But in terms of the whole recruitment, screening, and recommending personnel, in consideration of the Open Meeting Law, if the entire board wants to participate, which is well within its rights and prerogatives to do, everything has to be done in open session."
 
Selectman Mark Biagini just wants to show some progress being made.
 
"I don't care [whether it's discussed in executive session or not]. We just need to get going with this and show the public we're making progress," he said.
 
Selectman Jason Levesque agreed.
 
"I can't see what it would hurt. As long as we get things out quickly. Just do a quick executive session and go public from there," he said.
 
The board ultimately decided to discuss any potential alterations to the hiring process as it pertains to the town administrator's role in a brief executive session before next week's meeting.
 
The ongoing topic of how to temporarily heat the cafeteria portion of the Cheshire school was revisited. The town is trying to figure out a fiscally responsible solution for both Cheshire and the tenant. Original estimates for temporary electric heat to be installed came in at about $3,500. St. John updated the board that the estimate is now at about $4,900. Neither number includes monthly usage bills.
 
The board discussed several different options (propane, diesel, electric, rentals) to meet the tenants' needs but there is still a lot they don't know about the unique challenges leasing space in the school presents.
 
"How does this all tie together? How can we make it work?" Francesconi asked. "Just knowing that we can't meet building requirements ... we don't even know. We have to be above board. Would the insurance policy cover us if there's a fire associated with temporary heating? That's my take on it, that we have to make sure we make the right decision."
 
The board decided to continue investigating the best option and will also consult with Navin, who handled the initial estimate process. 
 
The town started a very preliminary discussion on its burial procedures. Currently the Highway Department handles all the digging but the department is currently short staffed and the board has expressed concern that time spent digging final resting places takes away from the crew's duties fixing roads. 
 
There was constructive discussion between Cemetery Commission member Anne Marie Furey and the board about the possibility of contracting privately to excavate for burials or even raising the fee but since Navin wasn't present, everyone agreed they should allow for further discussion and take the issue up at a later meeting.
 
The board's next regular meeting will be Tuesday, Nov. 26, 6:30 pm at the Community Center.

Tags: candidate interviews,   open meeting complaint,   

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Hoosac Valley School Committee Accept District Improvement Plan

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Hoosac Valley Regional School Committee last week approved a District Improvement Plan for this school year.
 
The plan presented Monday by Superintendent Aaron Dean that was lauded before the committee's formal approval.
 
"This is a tremendous amount of information," School Committee member Mike Mucci said.
 
The plan is split into four objectives: curriculum and instruction, teaching all students, family and community engagement, and professional culture. Dean said these objectives were informed by district administrators.  
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