Editorial: A Matter of Principle

Say this for Norwich Town Manager Neil Fulton: He’s always looking out for the town’s best interests.

When he was hired in April, he secured from the Selectboard a salary of $95,000, a 23 percent increase over the $77,250 paid to his predecessor. He told the Valley News at the time that he asked for the extra money in order to make the job an attractive one for future candidates.

Last week, in light of the excellent work that Fulton has done, the Selectboard offered the manager a 2.4 percent pay increase, which he gratefully deemed unacceptable.

“I think that’s you saying you think my performance is inadequate,” Fulton told the Selectboard last Wednesday night. (Being offered a 2.4 percent raise for inadequate performance is a concept with which we are unfamiliar but would like to become more fully acquainted.)

Not so, responded Selectboard Chairman Christopher Ashley, who noted that the board is highly satisfied but had to stretch “to pay you the salary that we paid you.”

As it turned out, it was a matter of principle. All Fulton wanted was $614 more, not that anybody is counting. He told Valley News staff writer Sarah Brubeck the following day that the extra money would put him at the proper rung on the grade-and-step plan devised by a company the town hired to do a compensation study for town employees.

That would assure other town employees that everybody was being treated fairly. “If I’m asking employees to be on the grade and step plan, then I would expect the Selectboard would give me the same consideration so I can demonstrate that we’re all being treated the same.” Indeed. In fact, just the other day, we were sitting around the opinion factory wondering whether our boss was being paid enough for all the good work he does.

Even though the Selectboard seems intent on nickel-and-diming the manager, we have a certain amount of sympathy for where it’s coming from, which is an up close and personal encounter with a projected $4.1 million town budget that would require a tax increase of nearly 11 percent. It included raises of 18, 23 and 31 percent for three key department heads, based on the same compensation study.

After Finance Committee Chairman Nate Stearns told the Selectboard that the projected increase in the town tax rate produced “nausea” among his members, the Selectboard decided to look for more places to cut, a process that is scheduled to resume this evening.

Even so, it shouldn’t be hard to come up with a few hundred bucks for Fulton, so he can maintain his dignity and establish a rational basis for compensation for town employees. His lonely stand for wage equity reminds us a little of baseball agent Scott Boras’ celebrated tenacity in wringing the last million dollars out of baseball owners in the attempt to vindicate the power of the free-agent market and establish the proper hierarchy of payment among the stars of the game. We would note, however, that sometimes the fans tend to become a little impatient when the latest highly paid star import doesn’t quite perform to expectations.