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607WVN #460: Who runs the DPW?/Another accounting discrepancy

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  • waylandvoters1
    Jul 8, 2012
    • 0 Attachment
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Who's in charge of the Department of Public Works? The question isn't as simple as it may seem.

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- A citizen turns up yet another questionable Wayland accounting practice.

      -- State hazmat specialists deal with Wayland Town Pool chemical mishap.

      -- "Giant Fish Eats Wayland Transfer Station." See for yourself below.

      A QUESTION OF DPW AUTHORITY

      The elected Board of Public Works found itself in an awkward and frustrating position when it learned only after the fact that the town administrator had negotiated and signed a new contract with the director of Public Works.

      So at its June 26 meeting the Board took steps to define its authority in a system with divergent hierarchies. The BoPW also seeks adequate financial reporting and the ability to obtain reports of how funds are spent among the various divisions, as well as any needed independent legal work.

      There is no clear understanding between the BoPW and the DPW director and the town administrator of what constitutes policy, said Board Chairman Mike Lowery.

      The BoPW should set the standard for dealing with customers and vendors, Lowery continued: "If we change or withdraw services we provide to our customers, we need to talk about it."

      Since the DPW was created in July 2009, combining several formerly separate departments, some tensions and dysfunction have yet to be worked out. If lines of authority cannot be clarified, then one option would be to change the language in the special act that authorizes the boards and committees within the DPW.

      The negotiation of DPW Director Don Ouellette's new contract illustrates the problem.

      The Contract That Surprised the Board

      Town Administrator Fred Turkington negotiated a new three-year contract for Ouellette dated April 26, 2012 without consulting or informing the Board. On June 7, Turkington told the Board he would accept comments on the DPW director's performance from individual members of the BoPW, but that the Board could not provide a performance evaluation because it is not the "appointing authority."

      The Board had met with Turkington on June 4 and wrapped up its discussion of DPW finances by asking to weigh in on the director's performance review and contract renewal. In the discussion captured by WayCAM (fast forward to elapsed time 00:40:50) neither Turkington nor Ouellette disclosed that the contract renewal was already a done deal.
      http://waycamtv.pegcentral.com/player.php?video=b126029c43fe0a5697f9a85ddfcec745

      It is not known if the Personnel Board was aware or was consulted regarding the terms of the new contract. Ouellette's salary as of July 1 is $109,351, plus a $300 uniform allowance. That represents a 16.7% increase since July 1, 2009. One provision calls for paying the director six months salary if his employment is terminated without cause. The new contract also allows Ouellette to "accept speaking, writing, lecturing, teaching or other paid engagements of a professional nature as he sees fit."

      The director's first contract was not due to expire until June 30, so there was time for all parties to have conferred. At the June 4 meeting Turkington told the Board that evaluation of Ouellette was "ongoing" and that he would welcome comments. By the June 19 Board meeting, Turkington had informed the BoPW that the deadline for evaluation comments was June 29, which he later extended to July 10.

      Regarding signing the new contract extension, Turkington asserted to two board members that he was not required to consult the BoPW because the new contract is simply a continuation of the first one.

      The wording in Section 5 of Chapter 347 of the Special Acts of 2008, however, states: "The Town Administrator, in consultation with the board, shall appoint, fix the tenure, compensation and fringe benefits of, and may enter into an employment agreement with a Director of Public Works, subject to appropriation and the provisions of the town's by-laws and personnel by-laws and wage and salary classification plan. The director shall exercise and perform, under the operational and administrative direction of the Town Administrator and the policy direction of the board, the powers, rights and duties which have been transferred to the department hereunder and as set forth in the town's
      by-laws."
      http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2008/Chapter347

      On June 26 each Board member explained his understanding of BoPW roles and responsibilities. Members Lowery and Jon Mishara had met with Turkington and town counsel Mark Lanza the Thursday before, when the town administrator suggested they write a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to resolve their differences.

      Mishara suggested that the Board designate a member as liaison with each division -- such as water, roads, transfer station, parks/trees -- to filter what should be brought to the board's attention. This would help avoid micromanagement by the board, Mishara said.

      Michael Wegerbauer, the longest-serving Board member, said members have been operating at such a macro level that they've missed out on some important items. Lately, he said, they're getting email notification of operations, which has helped them better understand what is happening. He indicated an MOU might be helpful, but said the Board needs the authority to hire and fire the director, with input from the town administrator, leaving day to day reporting to the town administrator.

      Anette Lewis, an attorney, former road commissioner and member of the former DPW Assessment Committee, told the board, speaking as a private citizen, that it should not cede authority through an MOU.

      She quoted Section 4(d) of the Special Act: "In addition, the board shall be responsible for the custody, care, management, control, operation, repair and maintenance of all town-owned land, equipment, facilities, vehicles and other personal property and accounts, budgetary funds, other funds and staff formerly under the jurisdiction of the Board of Road Commissioners, the Board of Water Commissioners, and the Park and Recreation Commission and used by said commissions for public works or park purposes. In consultation with the Recreation Commission, the board shall annually establish a plan for the periodic maintenance, repair and improvement of all town-owned land on which programs, events and activities are conducted or coordinated by the Recreation Department. The board shall be responsible for carrying out the plan."

      When the creation of the town administrator position was being debated, the management role was described as "administrative". It would be his responsibility to ensure that town offices were properly manned and citizens received responses in a timely manner, for example. Personnel administration
      was also mentioned. But the implementation of policy and the management of the substantive work of the department were to be entirely the responsibility of the relevant board. As a specific example used at the time, the TA would have no say over which books would be purchased by the Library. Only the Library trustees would have any oversight over such decisions.

      But in recent instances such as how to respond to NStar's demands for access to wellhead areas, Ouellette has gone to Turkington, not to the BOPW, for guidance in making difficult decisions.

      The Board discussed various options for a relationship of more shared responsibility for the director. To date, the board has never been consulted by the town administrator for the director's job performance review. There was no clear consensus on how to require that communication to occur.

      The members' views will be compiled into a single document to be discussed at their next meeting.

      The WayCAM recording of the June 26 meeting is available at:
      http://waycamtv.pegcentral.com/player.php?video=e4178f1b24d09278bc4e563580d5e261

      2004 Annual Town Meeting voters amended the Town Code to create the Town Administrator position. Authority and responsibility provisions are clearly spelled out in Chapter 60.2.
      http://www.ecode360.com/WA1635

      --WVN Staff


      NEW QUESTIONS ABOUT ACCOUNTING

      Citizens have been raising serious questions about Wayland's town and school accounting for more than two years. Their efforts led to a 2010 Town Meeting vote to hire outside consultants who uncovered many questionable practices. New issues continue to appear.

      The latest came up at a recent Finance Committee meeting, when a resident asked about $500,000 that apparently wasn't recorded in the town's books and was overlooked last October by the town's new auditing firm, Melanson & Heath.

      The resident, Donna Bouchard, was one of the petitioners who persuaded voters to call a special Town Meeting last fall that resulted in $4 million in property tax relief. She and other lead petitioners later received the Lydia Maria Child award from the Public Ceremonies Committee for meritorious service to Wayland. They were also cited by the MetroWest Daily News as "Persons of Distinction in December 2011.

      Based on her continuing research and requests for financial information, Bouchard asked the FinCom on June 25 about a discrepancy involving an "encumbrance," a reserve to cover expenses authorized but not yet paid. Wayland reported $1,045,901 to the state Department of Revenue last October, but the Fiscal 2011 Unreserved Fund Balance shows $1,545,901 as the "carryover."

      Where did the extra $500,000 come from?

      Finance Director MIchael DiPietro responded to Bouchard that the $500,000 was a "blanket amount," routinely kept off the books "for future use" every year since before he joined the town staff in January 2005.

      No Town Meeting Approval

      Questioned further, DiPietro acknowledged that Town Meeting, which ultimately approves every town expenditure, hadn't authorized this continuing procedure.

      Why does this matter? When the town balances its books, surplus funds must be accounted for, and they usually revert to free cash. Finance Committee policy calls for a free cash total of about 7.5% of budget (notably more than in many towns). The town can apply free cash to balance the budget, which lowers tax bills. That's what Town Meeting voters approved last fall.

      Bouchard contended that the $500,000 should have gone to free cash years ago and that the town had no legal authority to keep it off the books.

      On July 2 DiPietro emailed Bouchard: "The account will be closed out at (year) end FY12." This means that the $500,000 will become free cash. The fiscal year ended on June 30. Recent Finance Committee decisions indicate a projected free cash total above 7.5%, not including the $500,000 that Bouchard questioned.

      Acting on 2010 Town Meeting authority, Abrahams Group consultants have reported many substandard or irregular accounting practices. A special Operating Review Committee assessed the consultants' work, and a new audit committee will continue scrutiny. Though issues have been addressed, many loose ends remain. The latest disclosure raises further questions.

      When and How?

      Where did the off-the-books half-million dollars originate, and how long ago? Why didn't the finance director and Finance Committee alert the town's auditor to this accounting variance? Why didn't different auditors over the years discover the variance on their own? Are other monies tucked away somewhere undiscovered?

      The questions will seem familiar to those who have been following accounting issues. Citizens who accused the Finance Committee of overtaxing to hoard cash were vindicated when Town Meeting voted for tax relief at the two most recent Town meetings. See "Town Meeting voters nip budget": http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waylandvotersnetwork/message/593
      And http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waylandvotersnetwork/message/558

      The Abrahams Group consultants had said that Wayland's overlay fund for tax abatements was inflated by nearly $1 million in fiscal year 2011 alone. Off-ledger school checking accounts were discovered that collected and spent millions of dollars without using accepted procedures. The accounts have yet to be audited and the source of the money has not been disclosed. More off-ledger school checking accounts were revealed later.

      Questions remain about $6 million deposited irrevocably without signature, authorization or Town Meeting knowledge in the OPEB trust fund for retiree benefits. New questions arose at the recent Finance Committee meeting about annual funding of employee health insurance. Bouchard and other watchdogs want details on $985,000 in "excess" employee withholding.

      If the past is any guide, citizens asking questions may not be satisfied soon.

      You can view the relevant segment of the June 25 FinCom meeting at WayCAM, elapsed time 00:01:00: http://waycamtv.pegcentral.com/player.php?video=84439741760955a6e212e645246c493e

      -- WVN Staff


      STATE HAZMAT TEAM DEALS WITH POOL CHEMICAL MISHAP

      State hazardous material specialists were called to the Wayland Town Pool near the High School Sunday morning after employees apparently created a toxic mixture by mistakenly combining chlorine and muriatic acid. The pool, which hadn't opened yet, was ordered closed for the day.

      Fumes from that chemical combination are extremely hazardous.

      One of the two employees in the building was taken to a hospital and later released, authorities said.

      Details weren't available at WVN's publication time. The Wayland Town Crier is covering the story:

      http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland

      TRANSFER STATION'S LATEST ADDITION

      Reminder: It's that time of year again to purchase your new FY13 transfer station sticker.

      Customers should have no difficulty noticing the latest creative addition. Prominently displayed on the far side of the roadway is a large decorative fish made of materials recycled from the facility. See:

      https://picasaweb.google.com/104490350709760837136/20120707GiantFishEatsWaylandTransferStation?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCO3V7f_yoY7ieA&feat=directlink

      More information about the Eco-Art Lab/Artist-in-Residency Program is available at:
      http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_DPW/transfer/ecoart.pdf

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      Michael Short, Editor