WVN #523: Next OML step/Calls for better school accounting
Dear Wayland Voter,
A resident’s Open Meeting Law complaints have been sent to the attorney general.
Also in this newsletter: Residents call for accounting improvements in the wake of a school employee firing.
RESIDENT PURSUES OPEN MEETING LAW COMPLAINTS
Resident Kim Reichelt’s complaints alleging that three Wayland selectmen violated the state Open Meeting Law are now in the attorney general’s hands.
As required, Reichelt first lodged her complaints with the Board of Selectmen. The Board’s written response on Sept. 23 denied any violation when the Board voted 3-1 on Aug. 26 to terminate Town Administrator Fred Turkington’s contract.
But the Board said that “in light of some public concern” it would meet soon to review Turkington’s contract and job description “and/or discuss all possible action as allowable under the terms of the agreement including whether to exercise the authority of the Board to confirm and ratify termination of the employment contract of the Town Administrator under the 'without cause' provisions of that contract." The matter will be discussed and then voted.
Though unlikely to change the outcome, this new discussion could offer the public an opportunity to hear more arguments. The night of the firing, the two selectmen who had worked with and praised Turkington for years, Steve Correia and Joe Nolan, objected loudly to the motion but didn’t discuss its merits. Correia stormed out, shouting, “This is bull.” Selectmen Tony Boschetto, Ed Collins and Doug Leard had little to say at the time. Boschetto stated that the termination “without cause” was the most efficient and cost-effective path but legally restricted their comments.
Selectmen may have had the case of Toma Duhani in mind in choosing the “without cause” route. According to news accounts of the time, Duhani was fired in June 2000 from his position as Wayland highway director for allegations including unlawful disposal of wastewater, insubordination, and attempting to interfere with testimony in a lawsuit against him by the Massachusetts attorney general. There was a settlement, a rehire, a new resignation, and a lawsuit for wrongful dismissal. It cost the town about $700,000, including a $200,000 settlement for Duhani. The balance was legal fees. The town was forced to pay Duhani’s legal fees as well as its own.
$700,000 in year 2000 is equivalent to $950,000 today.
Much of the voluminous and sometimes vicious public comment in the weeks after Turkington’s contract termination has been along political lines. Reichelt, who hadn’t shown evident interest in a long succession of earlier OML complaints, is a longtime supporter of the Board of Selectmen majority that hired Turkington in 2005 and gave him superlative reviews.
On the other side were those who complained in recent years that Turkington had expanded his authority, with the approval of the selectmen, to the point that he performed more like a hard-driving town manager than an administrator. Volunteers saw their authority questioned, decisions were made in private and Turkington was sometimes referred to behind his back as King Fred. When a new majority was elected to the Board last April, the supporters of “Leave it to Fred” management found themselves outnumbered.
Reichelt’s first OML complaint, dated Sept. 3, alleged that the meeting agenda item under which Turkington was terminated was too vague. The selectmen’s plan to revisit the agenda, so to speak, was directed at that complaint.
Reichelt alleged in a second complaint dated Sept. 18 that the three selectmen had violated the law by deciding in advance and in private that they would vote to terminate the contract. To this the selectmen replied that Reichelt was inconsistent, claiming to have proof of unlawful discussion but then acknowledging that “there is no currently available evidence of collusion.” In Reichelt’s view it was “difficult to escape” the conclusion of unlawful conduct; otherwise there must have been “incompetence” or “extreme rashness.”
The selectmen wrote in their Sept. 23 response to the complainant that rashness and incompetence are not violations of the OML. Furthermore, they said, a more plausible explanation is that the three selectmen harbored similar views and Selectman Boschetto’s motion was an unanticipated opportunity to express those views.
The next day Reichelt wrote to the attorney general, calling the Board’s statement “completely unsatisfactory” and saying three selectmen “took no responsibility and admitted no fault.” Revisiting the Aug. 26 agenda item is “worse than meaningless,” she said.
She filed her complaints with the AG on Sept. 24, contrary to procedural provisions of the OML calling for complainants to wait 30 days after filing with the governmental body.
Reichelt apparently dismissed giving the Board a chance to carry out its plan to respond to her concerns. The Board’s posted Sept. 30 agenda includes the voted release of minutes of recent executive sessions that Reichelt complained about. Special legal counsel attended the last two executive sessions. The Board is presumed to be acting on advice of its attorneys.
Reichelt concluded her Sept. 24 email to the AG with her views of the Board’s demeanor. “The Board (and the Chair specifically) has completely shifted its philosophy on public comment seeking to limit it, taking a hostile tone with those who seek to speak against the Board on the issue of the OML complaint and the firing of the Town Administrator, even while inviting in those who speak in their support to make comment…”
Leard did not announce a new philosophy but rather noted, as a point of information, that he had learned at last week’s OML training that providing public comment on the agenda is not required. Selectman Nolan has occasionally played self-appointed timekeeper during public comment. Years of posted selectmen’s meeting agendas and minutes show how public comment has been scheduled and conducted, at the discretion of the chairman.
At the Sept. 16 selectmen’s meeting, Chairman Leard presided over 30 minutes of public comment in addition to Reichelt’s agenda time of almost 20 minutes for her OML complaints.
On Sept. 23, Leard recognized six people from the audience to speak, most of whom were not so-called “supporters.” Leard chose to respond to the substance of some comments, beyond standard practice, after which Reichelt nevertheless characterized him as being “truly hostile.” The AG will be able to review WayCAM recordings, as it has done in the past for other OML complaints.
Reichelt asks the AG to find that the three intentionally violated the OML, assess the maximum fine and require the three to reimburse the town for the cost of legal counsel. Though Selectmen Nolan and Correia have complained repeatedly about hiring special counsel for this case, the Board has received legal help at taxpayer expense in the past. Town Counsel represented the Board in a 2010 OML case, negotiating a settlement that reduced the fine and avoided a hearing. Correia was one of the selectmen found to have violated the OML in that case, and benefited from the legal representation.
Proving that unlawful discussion took place can be difficult without direct evidence. The 2010 OML violation involving four Wayland selectmen was an open and shut case because it took place with a TV camera running.
Simply making an accusation can be a political tool. For example, former Selectman Tom Fay asserted in local media that the presence of five citizens he named who were in the selectmen’s Aug. 26 meeting audience meant that a plan to fire Turkington “was obviously communicated.”
When it turned out that one of the five wasn’t present when the agenda item came up and another was covering the meeting for WVN, Fay issued what he called an apology. “I should not have named names,” Fay wrote. But he stuck to his theory that somehow there was a secret plan: “it does seem more than coincidental” that people he believed to be supporters of the three selectmen were there.
-- WVN Staff
SCHOOL FINANCIAL HYGIENE
Resident Dave Bernstein demanded that the schools start practicing “perfect financial hygiene” to restore confidence in school financial management.
His comments at the Sept. 23 School Committee meeting referred to the latest school financial flap in which a school employee was fired for mucking around with accounts. No money appears to have been stolen, but it could have been, and the employee’s ability to manipulate accounting software at the least indicates sloppy financial management. The School Committee didn’t identify the fired employee or discuss possible motivations for the employee’s behavior..
The unauthorized activity was discovered by the Town’s (not the school department’s) finance staff. See Wayland Town Crier news coverage:
The June 2013 Fraud Report is not posted on the school or town website:
Bernstein worried that reports of such behavior encourage people to think that school finances are poorly managed and will undermine support for spending on critical programs, like technology.
Chair Barb Fletcher proceeded to read into the record three written statements from citizens urging better financial management and frugality. John Frangioni suggested “merging all financial governance with the Town” and went on “I reject the notion that because we have a great school system we can’t cut costs. The recent financial reports provide plenty of impetus, and your continued leadership as a Committee can ensure that it happens.”
Alice Boelter also suggested consolidation with the town, adding “We might see more monies available for actual education programs as a result.” She also suggested the formation of a budget advisory committee.
Kent George asserted that annual school expense increases are unsustainable. He went on “Citizens like myself are willing and able to support appropriate student educational opportunities and subsequent cost, but not to overspend to keep up with the Joneses.”
Cherry Karlson, of the Finance Committee, briefly met with the School Committee to provide a preview of the guidelines for the new Fiscal 2015 budget season. She said they would probably be similar to previous years’ guidelines, with allowances for salary increases and utility cost changes, but no change in services.
-- Tom Sciacca
PERSONNEL BOARD OFFERS ASSISTANCE
On Monday, Sept. 30, the selectmen will have their third joint meeting in three weeks with the Personnel Board as they plan their search for a new town administrator. Most Personnel Board members and all office staff were serving during the prior hiring process back in 2005.
The joint discussions have included the town bylaw (Town Code Chapter 60) approved at the 2004 Annual Town Meeting, the town administrator job description, search consultants, whether to consider changes in the job description, interim support for the acting town administrator and selectmen’s office, other towns’ experiences with senior staff searches, and the option of hiring an interim town administrator.
The Personnel Board is asking the selectmen to evaluate these matters and to reach consensus as a board. The Personnel Board provided four handouts with suggestions at last week’s meeting: recommendations for creating the Search Committee; clarifying attributes of the administrator, competencies and expectations of a new town administrator, community involvement in the hiring process; defining in greater detail what it means for the administrator to “communicate effectively” and to be “able to work cooperatively.”
Acting Town Administrator John Senchyshyn reported on his action steps, which include networking with individuals and consulting firms such as the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston, a governmental entity that is exempt from Massachusetts 30B procurement law and has an Executive Recruitment practice. Collins provides services such as conducting searches, screening candidates, confidential recruiting, and maintaining a database of available professionals, some of whom are retired and who accept short-term interim positions. Senchyshyn also described the RFP (request for proposals) process and confirmed that it is possible to pursue parallel tracks of issuing an RFP for consulting firms while also working with Collins.
Personnel Board Chairman Nancy McCarthy was very direct in expressing her board’s concern that the selectmen have different opinions and expectations, and they need to find common ground in order to eliminate uncertainty and confusion. The selectmen agreed to review the town administrator bylaw and job description for discussion with the Personnel Board before bringing in a consultant to assist the board.
-- Linda Segal
WAYCAM MEMBERSHIP DRIVE
WayCAM is conducting its annual membership drive. For $10, Wayland residents can support our local cable TV station and enable student scholarships. More information:
All town government meetings take place in Wayland Town Building unless otherwise indicated. Posted meeting agendas are available at: http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/index
Monday, Sept. 30
Selectmen, 6:45 p.m.
Personnel Board, 7 p.m.
Board of Public Works, 7 p.m.
Elementary School Building Use Public Forum, 7 p.m., Loker School
Tuesday, Oct. 1
Council on Aging, 8 a.m. (Morning)
School Committee, 8 a.m. (Morning)
Wednesday., Oct. 2
Planning Board, 8:30 a.m. (Morning) The Planning Board is expected to vote to withdraw the fall town meeting warrant article calling for an increase in town center office space. The article had been submitted at Twenty Wayland’s request. The developer now asks for it to be removed. The Town Planner has cancelled the already advertised Oct. 10 public hearing required for zoning bylaw changes.
Cable Advisory Committee, 7 p.m.
SAVE THE DATE:
Oct. 15: State Primary Election for the US Congress seat vacated by Ed Markey.
Oct. 16: Talk on Glyphosate (main ingredient in NStar’s herbicide Roundup) by MIT’s Stephanie Seneff, 7 p.m. at Wellesley High School, sponsored by Wellesley League of Women Voters and Sustainable Wellesley. More information:
Oct. 23: Wastewater Management District Commission Public Meeting, 7:30 p.m. Presentation
explaining the commission’s DEP permit application for a groundwater discharge facility near the Town Building athletic field to benefit the Town Center project. For background information:
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor