AUBURN – City councilors meeting Monday night quickly dispatched a handful of routine agenda items and then retreated behind closed doors to mull over the status of union negotiations.

The action came as some unionized police officers have started sprouting beards to protest the lack of progress in their efforts to settle on terms for a new contract.

City Manager Pat Finnigan asked for the so-called executive session, which was approved unanimously. The session allows councilors, and those they invite to join them, to discuss in secret the progress – or lack of it – being made on new labor contracts.

In calling for the closed-door session, Finnigan told councilors negotiations with unions representing the city’s police, firefighters and public works employees would be discussed.

City cops started letting their beards grow Thursday as a visible way to show their displeasure with the lag in contract negotiations. Auburn strongly discourages facial hair on its police officers.

In more routine matters, councilors:

• Approved a liquor license and special amusement permit for Riverwatch, which does business as the Hilton Garden Inn. The inn is set to open later this month. The special amusement permit allows for bands and dancing.

• Advanced an ordinance amendment to allow diagonal parking on some streets when requested as part of a development that requires Planning Board review.

• Renewed the pawn license for Webster’s Trading Co.

• Bestowed constable status on April R. Smith, allowing her to serve as a reserve police officer.

Councilors also listened to a statement read into the record by Councilor-at-large Robert Mennealy, apologizing “to all the citizens and school children … and dedicated public employees for the educational and financial sacrifices they must now make due to previous administration’s lack of fiscal planning.”

Mennealy was traveling out of the country two weeks ago when the council adopted a new budget that required cutting some services and raising taxes to bring it in balance.

He said inadequate planning “led us to the fiscal mess the city now finds itself in.”

Mennealy also said he supports “any action city employees must take to protect themselves and exercise their rights of freedom of speech.”

Some unionized city workers have discussed the possibility of conducting informational picketing if contract talks fail to advance.

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