Panton workers are re-appointed to jobs

PANTON — Panton’s charter change, which residents approved on Town Meeting Day and the Vermont Legislature supported this past winter with only minor language changes, became official on July 1 — and three key town jobs are no longer elected positions.
The Panton selectboard met on Tuesday to choose a town clerk, treasurer and delinquent tax collector, and chose to re-appoint the elected incumbents — clerk Jean Miller, treasurer Diane Merrill and tax collector Barbara Fleming.
Longtime selectboard members John Viskup, the chairman, and Beth Tarallo (they have just been joined on the board by appointee Howard Hall) said the three have been working well.
“I think that we in Panton are fortunate to have people in those positions who are doing great jobs for the town,” Tarallo said.
With legislative approval of its charter, Panton joined the roughly dozen towns that, by Tarallo’s 2013 count, now appoint either a treasurer or a clerk (including Vergennes, Stowe, Springfield and Berlin, to name a few) for reasons that include expanding their potential employee pools and making workers directly accountable to selectboards or city councils.
Leading up to Tuesday’s meeting in Panton, some things remained up in the air. As of last week, the selectboard had yet to set the lengths of the three new employees’ appointments, for example, before on Tuesday making the terms for each position one year long.
“The charter kind of left that open,” Tarallo said.
Job descriptions are also still being made final.The board is combining Vermont’s statutes and recommendations from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns with, in Miller’s words, “what Panton as a small town does.” In the past two weeks, Miller and her fellow employees and the selectboard members were all reviewing drafts of the job descriptions.
Tarallo said the effort is going well and should be finished soon.
“We are pleased with position description progress for each of these positions and will discuss final drafts at the July 22 selectboard meeting,” she said.
Also coming with the employees’ new territory will be formal selectboard evaluation of their efforts, including annual reviews. Viskup said in any business employees should be “accountable” to their employers, and he believes that is now the case in Panton.
“We now have people that have to be responsible to the selectboard. It’s a much better situation,” Viskup said.
Viskup added that in some ways employees could have greater job security with successful reviews, rather than be at the whim of voters.
“I think the employees feel quite comfortable with it the way it is,” he said.
Miller said she was optimistic moving forward.
“I don’t foresee any problems or anything,” she said.
As well as accountability, Tarallo said the selectboard believes the charter change could in the future offer another key benefit — it allows the board to look outside town borders for employees.
While stressing the board is happy with the abilities of its three current workers, Tarallo said the demands of the jobs are increasing. Down the road, board members think it might be necessary to cast a wider net to find people with the right “skillsets.”
“I think maybe the environment in which these three positions operate is more complex,” she said. “And we have started to realize that out of our very small population … electing people out of our limited pool is not sustainable.”
In researching the charter change last year, Tarallo said she found that other towns are dealing with the same question as state-imposed demands for accounting, reporting and record-keeping continue to rise.
“It seems like something many towns, especially the smaller ones, are struggling with,” she said, adding, “There is a growing movement of looking at this.”
The charter also calls for different employees to hold the town clerk and treasurer posts, a measure that Tarallo said will ensure “internal controls” in the future, “especially financial controls.”    
“It separates them out, and I think that is generally a good practice,” she said.
Overall, Viskup said there was some understandable anxiety about the change among town workers at first, but he believes at this point all are on board.
“They were all a little bit nervous about it to begin with, but I think we have a very good working relationship with our employees, and that’s what counts. It’s a team,” Viskup said. “When you get a team that works together and pulls together, you’re lucky.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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