Oak Bluffs officials were surprised to learn this week that town administrator Michael Dutton approved a pay raise and job reclassification for building inspector Jerry Wiener in October without the approval or knowledge of the selectmen.
During several public meetings over the past two months, Mr. Dutton has told selectmen the change in Mr. Wiener's job description - which likely would require his title to be changed to town building commissioner - was still in the planning stages and open to discussion.
But the Gazette learned this week that the change was not a work in progress, but in fact a fait accompli. Town records show that Mr. Dutton signed the payroll change on Oct. 16 authorizing an increase in Mr. Wiener's salary to $67,500 a year.
As town officials reacted to news of Mr. Wiener's salary increase, the Gazette also learned that bonuses were paid to a four town department heads between July 2005 and June 2006 for work outside their job description - payments authorized by the department heads themselves.
As for Mr. Wiener, Mr. Dutton listed "the reclassification of job description to building commissioner" as the reason for the change. The town administrator also indicated on a payroll change form that Mr. Wiener was not a union employee, although the building inspector position has traditionally been a union job.
On Oct. 26, Mr. Dutton agreed to send a check to Mr. Wiener for just over $3,100 so the raise would be retroactive to July 1.
At a selectmen's meeting Dec. 12, a month after he authorized the payroll change, Mr. Dutton first introduced the idea of changing Mr. Wiener's job title to the board. At the time, several selectmen said it was the first they had heard of such a change.
The plan was discussed briefly and then tabled. Mr. Dutton said details were still being worked out and he would return to selectmen with a more complete plan in the future. He said the change would not cost the town any more money.
After learning of Mr. Wiener's change in pay and job classification, town health agent Shirley Fauteaux - also the union steward for town department heads - filed a grievance this week. Ms. Fauteaux claims that Mr. Dutton's actions violated the collective bargaining agreement and state law by removing the building inspector position from the union.
Ms. Fauteaux also filed a second grievance claiming the town discriminated against her by refusing to grant her a promotion on several occasions over the past two years, while Mr. Dutton granted a salary increase to the building inspector.
"Michael Dutton, in his reply to my request, said [selectmen] could not grant a salary increase because it would constitute negotiations outside of the union contract . . . however, it has come to my attention that Mr. Dutton on Oct. 16 signed a payroll change granting Jerry Wiener an immediate increase and, furthermore, illegally remove him from the rolls of Unit B dues," Ms. Fauteux wrote.
Mr. Dutton sent a letter to selectmen Tuesday stating he had already put the position back into the union.
Mr. Dutton this week said he changed Mr. Wiener's pay rate to bring his salary in line with a pay increase approved at the annual town meeting last April. The line item for the building inspector department salaries approved at town meeting is not broken down.
Mr. Dutton said he does not know why Mr. Wiener did not start receiving an increase in pay at the start of the fiscal year in July 1.
He also said he could have handed the situation better.
"I'll be the first to admit that I made a mistake, but I was trying to correct something that dated back to the previous administration," he said.
Mr. Dutton said former town administrator Casey Sharpe had promised Mr. Wiener the change in title and pay. Mr. Dutton said he was simply trying to follow through with that prior agreement.
It is unclear whether Mr. Dutton has the authority to approve payroll changes without the selectmen's consent. The chain of command for employment matters is somewhat muddled in Oak Bluffs; several years ago Ms. Sharpe reduced the number of personnel board members and assumed much of that panel's duties and oversight.
As a result, the personnel board in recent years was largely reduced to an advisory board, and went long stretches without a chairman or regular meetings. Most personnel matters, including pay raises, have been handled by the town administrator in recent years.
The personnel board found its legs again last year, when it elected a new chairman and began to meet on a monthly basis. The board has advocated a number of changes, including the reclassification of job descriptions and the publication of the salaries of town employees in the annual town report.
Some town officials said they were upset that Mr. Dutton failed to inform either selectmen or members of the personnel board that he was changing Mr. Wiener's pay rate. But most also described it as a minor misstep and said they were pleased with Mr. Dutton's performance so far.
"I think [Mr. Dutton] has been great for the town. He's very open and accessible and I think he approached this with the best intentions," selectman and board chairman Duncan Ross said.
Mr. Ross said he did not know the change was authorized back in October. Although he said things should have been handled differently, he supported giving Mr. Wiener a raise and more responsibility.
"The town could not ask for a more dedicated building inspector," Mr. Ross said. "I am certain we have the best person for the job. If we can arrange to have Mr. Wiener take on more responsibilities so our town administrator can focus on other things, like finding state and federal money for the town, then I would support such a change."
Selectman Ron DiOrio agreed. "It's unfortunate that this sort of lapse has occurred, but it's important to look forward and not dwell in the past."
On the matter of outside bonuses for town department heads, payroll records from town hall show the town paid highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr. a one-time stipend of $10,000. Head librarian Danguole Budris received a $5,000 stipend; harbor master Todd Alexander received a $7,500 stipend, and former information technology director Raven Marino received two stipends, one for $4,400 and another for $6,500.
All the payroll forms are authorized by the individuals who received the stipends, who as department heads were required to sign their own payroll sheets. The stipends were paid through funds already approved in each department's salary line item.
The town has awarded one-time stipends in the past to employees on a smaller scale, although the appropriations were itemized and approved at town meeting. Town clerk Deborah deBettencourt Ratcliff said yesterday she could not find a record that the recent spate of stipends were authorized at town meeting.
All the department heads who received stipends have personal service contracts with the town, multi-year employment agreements negotiated on an individual basis that usually reward the worker with additional perks and a higher level of pay than other municipal and union employees.
State law allows for these contracts, but guidelines suggest that they be limited to only handful of positions such as town administrator and the police and fire chiefs. Oak Bluffs has as many as 12 personal service contracts, more than in any town on the Vineyard, and possibly in the state.
Selectman Kerry Scott, who last year sent a letter to the state Department of Revenue asking for an examination of who legally can receive personal service contracts, said she could not recall hearing about the stipends or signing a payroll warrant that listed the one-time payments.
"All I can say about these [stipends] at this point is that we have to learn more about them," Ms. Scott said. "I would be the last person to say these employees didn't deserve that type of compensation. But I would expect we would know more about these payments instead of hearing about it after the fact."