HANSON — The process for handling citizen complaints, adopted in 1993 and revised in 2008 and 2016, was discussed by Selectmen at their Tuesday, Aug. 24 meeting.
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett had asked for the item to be placed on the agenda to ensure that there was “full transparency among the entire board about complaints that we may be getting and that there aren’t situations where, although well-intended, it would be the town administrator and the chair who were deciding how to respond.”
Interim Town Administrator Lisa Green said the process includes a timeline for responding to citizen complaints, which are first submitted to the committee or department they concern in writing. The committee or department then has two weeks to respond and, if the complainant is not satisfied, they can go to the town administrator for a review and response. If that is not found satisfactory to the person raising the issue, it can be brought before the Board of Selectmen.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said there may be instances where responses need to be quicker and, if a response could be made faster than the 14-day window, it would be done.
She wanted to address, specifically complaints about appointed boards and committees. As an example, she asked how a complaint about how someone was addressed at a meeting might be handled.
“I’ll be frank with you, there were times in the last year and a half when our board got complaints and we didn’t even respond to citizens filing the complaint,” she said. “We were aware of the complaints and we just didn’t respond, and that’s completely unacceptable to me.”
She also asked if information about the process was available on the website.
Green said she would look into the website question and where the best place for it would be.
FitzGerald-Kemmett also wanted to make clear the town’s complaint process was not the same as the state’s open meeting law complaint process.
“I’m not saying, ‘Oh, please, file all these complaints,’” she said. “But I do want to make sure if people have got concerns that we are being responsible about having the procedure and form so that people have the feeling that we’re being responsive to their concerns.”
Green said that when she receives a complaint she researches all the information she can about the complaint, including state laws and regulations, and includes information directing people to the appropriate authorities.
FitzGerald-Kemmett also asked how Selectmen would know if any complaints were filed against a person seeking reappointment to a board or committee.
“The policy doesn’t speak to that,” said Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff, suggesting that Selectmen could create a policy on dealing confidentially with complaints and responses.
While she expressed confidence in Green’s ability to handle complaints, FitzGerald-Kemmett said she would like to see a way for the board to proceed with “eyes wide open” on information they would need to keep in mind when reappointments come up.
Green also said she would make sure Selectmen received emails on the situation, which prompted Selectman Joe Weeks to ask why he has had trouble receiving emails so far since his election this spring.
Dyer said the notification process would be a good idea.
“So we’re in agreement right now that we’re following this complaint policy, but we’re choosing to amend it to make it clearer?” Weeks said. “Because, there are complaints and I don’t feel I’m involved at all.”
“We’re not saying we’re following that, and my concern predates Ms. Green,” said FitzGerald-Kemmett, who said she was stating her concerns carefully out of legal considerations.
Dyer reprhrased Week’s concern as one of being informed of business before the board as a whole.
“I like the idea of the collective body being the decision-maker and the jury and the decision-maker through the town administrator,” Weeks said. “I don’t feel connected to it, personally.”
He said that whatever language would be required to make the
board collectively the town’s CEO, that is the standard he is seeking. Green said she is willing to look into why Weeks is not receiving emails.