Chilmark selectmen sharply criticized the human resources board Tuesday night for using inappropriate language to discuss town employees and alleging improper conduct by town officials at public meetings last month.
The selectmen’s criticism stemmed from Feb. 7 and Feb. 21 meetings of the Chilmark human resources board at which board members used curse words while discussing town officials, questioned the job performance of longtime beach superintendent Martina Mastromonaco and alleged that former town accountants and the town executive secretary may have engaged in illegal accounting activity.
At a standing-room-only meeting between the selectmen, the human resources board and the beach committee, officials and residents voiced complaints about the conduct of the board, while members of the human resources board in turn expressed frustration over their inability to enforce a human resources bylaw that was adopted in 2011 after 10 years of development.
Digital recordings and edited transcripts of the February meetings were passed around town during the past month, with edited partial transcripts posted at Alley’s General Store and the Menemsha Texaco. According to recordings of the February meetings, the board discussed accusations that executive secretary Tim Carroll asked the two previous town accountants to engage in “illegal” accounting practices.
On Tuesday selectmen Warren Doty vehemently denied those allegations, at times growing visibly angry with members of the board.
“The word illegal is used in reference to things that were done with town accountant — that is an absolute incorrect statement,” Mr. Doty said. “There were a lot of negative comments, especially about the executive secretary. And I disagree with that entirely; it was inappropriate and it wasn’t on the agenda.”
Selectman and chairman of the board Jonathan Mayhew said the board was not tasked with evaluating or discussing individual town employees, only town positions, and should refrain from doing so in the future.
Selectmen also reviewed two written complaints from beach committee member Wayne Iacono about the content of the meeting recordings, which were briefly posted on the town website and later removed, and another complaint from fire chief David Norton regarding language used to discuss Ms. Mastromonaco’s part-time position at the fire department. “I think we should talk about the disdain they had for employees and other boards,” Chilmark resident John Maloney said Tuesday. “And there was a selectmen present and it kept going. That’s what I think we should talk about, that kind of attitude . . . . I think they should be sorry for what they said. The tapes speak for themselves.”
Despite admonishing their recent behavior, selectmen said they would take no additional action against the human resources board.
In reviewing the recordings of the meetings, Mr. Rappaport said he found that comments made were not “libelous, slander or crossed the legal line.”
“There is nothing in the minutes pertaining to the beach superintendent that is illegal, slanderous or puts the town in jeopardy,” Mr. Rappaport said. “There are things that were not decorous, and I think the board should be well advised to be more civil. Does it cross the legal line? It does not.”
The contentious debate at the Feb. 7 meeting was sparked by a disagreement between the human resources board and selectmen over whether the town should pay for a $400 lifeguard certification program for Ms. Mastromonaco.
Acting on a recommendation from the beach committee, the selectmen agreed to foot the bill for the training course at a Feb. 5 meeting. The human resources board disagreed with the decision, saying that because Ms. Mastromonaco is a seasonal employee, training benefits as spelled out in the human resources bylaw are not included. Two days later, board members threatened to resign in protest; the meeting topic then turned to other complaints and allegations of misconduct by town officials.
Selectmen reaffirmed their decision to pay for Ms. Mastromonoco’s lifeguard training on Feb. 19.
Selectman Bill Rossi, who was present for both of the February human resources meetings, said he had spoken to the human resources board about changes in “decorum and procedures.”
“Everyone has agreed we’re going to maintain those changes and procedures and protocol when dealing with any department,” Mr. Rossi said. “It came from years of frustration, apparently. I wasn’t quite ready for it and I let them vent and I probably should have stopped it but I didn’t. Going forward, we won’t see that happen again.”
On Tuesday, the selectmen also voted to change the job description for the assistant beach superintendent to require lifeguard certification. Selectmen previously made the same change for the beach superintendent position in December.
Though the beach committee requested the selectmen allow Ms. Mastromonaco to receive her certification by 2014, the selectmen said they had given her ample notice of their decision and reaffirmed their decision to require it by this summer.
“Perception-wise, it’s important to the town for our beach attendants to be certified in life-saving techniques in case the need arises,” Mr. Rossi said.
But Ms. Mastromonaco, who has been the beach superintendent for nearly 20 years, said she would not be able to pass the lifeguard test that is scheduled for mid-April.
“I’ve been working out and swimming . . . but I’m not at the point of swimming that many laps, I don’t think it’s possible for me to do this in three weeks,” she said. “You’re just going to have to fire me tonight then. Because I can’t get it done by April.”
The selectmen stood by their decision “Take the test and pass it and be the superintendent on the beach,” Mr. Rossi said.
“We want you to do the job, we want you to do 100 per cent of the job,” Mr. Mayhew added.