County Faces Political Crisis
Leaders Schedule Second Meeting to Wrestle with Turmoil Caused By Departure of Top Manager; Commissioners Seek Answers
By JONATHAN BURKE
The Dukes County commissioners this week held their first meeting since the abrupt departure of county manager Carol Borer, and went home without taking action to address the crisis.
On Wednesday night, the county commissioners discussed the urgent need to fill the post of Mrs. Borer, who emptied her office on Dec. 31 and did not return for work on Jan. 2, but did not take immediate steps. They agreed to meet again Monday at 6 p.m., expressing hopes that more information will be available then.
Dianne Powers, the Dukes County register of deeds and deputy county manager, has stepped into Ms. Borer's shoes for the time being, returning phone calls and speaking to attorneys involved in litigation for the county. But in a conversation with the Gazette yesterday, she emphasized that her primary responsibilities prevent her from stepping fully into the county manager's post.
"I'm basically doing whatever needs to be done to keep things moving along right now," Mrs. Powers said. "Realistically, I can't do it for the time that it is going to take to hire a new county manager. I was elected to be the register of deeds."
She told the commissioners Wednesday night that she could not be the point person for the litigation and could only juggle two full-time jobs for so long.
"Finding a county manager is of utmost importance. There needs to be someone who can dedicate the time necessary on a longer term so there is a smoother transition for when the new county manager comes in," she told the Gazette.
Ms. Borer announced in November her plans to resign at the end of the year, but agreed then to stay on as temporary county manager while her permanent replacement was found. But following a dispute over vacation and sick day pay that froze funding for the temporary manager position, she cleared her office last week.
Wednesday night, county commissioners left open the possibility that Mrs. Borer could return to her post. A certificate of employment that sets a pay rate of $45 per hour is outstanding.
"I would say there is some validity to this document, and if you don't want to employ this person at $45 per hour, you should take some action," said Michael Gilman, a labor attorney for the county. According to Mr. Gilman, the commissioners are free to revoke the certificate of employment.
"At the Monday meeting they are going to discuss and consider the certificate of employment for her to act as interim county manager," said Ms. Powers.
With a number of legal matters pending, the commissioners agreed they need to shore up the position quickly if county government is to act effectively.
The discovery process is set to begin in a salary dispute lawsuit filed by William Weibrecht, airport manager, and Sean Flynn, assistant airport manager.
"There is a new piece of complicated litigation that is going to have to be dealt with," said Mr. Gilman.
"All of us are in that lawsuit. All of us are going to have to give information," said Noreen Flanders, county treasurer, at the meeting Wednesday night.
An additional legal action has reportedly also been threatened by Marsha Smolev, executive assistant to the county manager. Ms. Smolev, through her attorney, delivered a letter to Leslie Leland, chairman of the county commissioners, on Dec. 24 which complained of harassment by Ms. Borer. The letter described certain acts by Ms. Borer as actionable and demanded that the county take steps to remedy the situation.
At the center of the controversy now playing out in county government has been the handling of Ms. Borer's severance pay. Many county commissioners and members of the finance advisory board were angered last week to learn that Ms. Borer had received almost $23,000 in vacation and sick day pay before that payment had been reviewed and approved through the usual processes.
At a Dec. 30 meeting, the county finance advisory board refused to approve the first three line items of the supplemental budget. Those items would have formally funded Ms. Borer's vacation and sick day pay package and the temporary county manager position.
The advisory board sent the first three line items back to the county commissioners for their reconsideration. This Wednesday, the county commissioners approved funding for the temporary help line item. The board assigned Paul Strauss and Nelson Smith, its newest members, to investigate the circumstances surrounding Ms. Borer's vacation and sick day pay.
To make county matters more complicated, the Edgartown police and the district attorney's office are now tangentially involved in the events surrounding Ms. Borer's departure.
According to Sgt. Kenneth Johnson, Ms. Smolev received a vulgar e-mail message the day after Ms. Borer's departure. The e-mail, which county commissioners have called "sick" and "disgusting," made reference to Ms. Smolev's hiring of an attorney.
"It wasn't so much of a threat. It was just vulgar. It was clearly sent to upset her, and it did," said Sergeant Johnson. He said the e-mail amounted to criminal harassment, a misdemeanor.
Sergeant Johnson said that both the Edgartown police and the district attorney's office are investigating the origins of the e-mail. He said subpoenas will be served to determine the identity of the sender.
Sergeant Johnson said that while the police were at the county offices on Friday, they were told that files had been erased from the computer in the county manager's office. He said the police have taken the hard drive to a computer expert to recover the files.
In a follow up conversation, Sergeant Johnson said that the computer in the county manager's office was not a police matter and that the police took the hard drive to a computer expert as a favor to the county.
Ms. Borer this acknowledged that she deleted e-mail from the computer in her office and removed some of her files. She is not under investigation by the police for wrongdoing.