Oak Bluffs selectmen at their regular meeting Tuesday took a hard line on how raises and bonuses should be awarded to town employees, asking town administrator Michael Dutton to involve the board in such matters in the future.
After the news surfaced last week that Mr. Dutton had approved a pay raise and change in job title for building inspector Jerry Wiener in October without the knowledge of selectmen, Mr. Dutton on Tuesday defended his actions.
He told selectmen that Mr. Wiener and former town administrator Casey Sharpe agreed to an annual salary of $67,500 before the building inspector took the job in 2005. At the time, Mr. Wiener was told that his new rate of pay would not go into effect until July 1 of last year, Mr. Dutton said.
Mr. Dutton said that for some reason the new rate of pay did not go into effect last summer, so he made the change in October to bring Mr. Wiener's salary in line with what was previously negotiated. Mr. Dutton said funding for the new salary was approved by voters at town meeting last April.
At a selectmen's meeting in December nearly two months after he had authorized the payroll change, Mr. Dutton introduced the idea of changing Mr. Wiener's job title to the board.
Last week town health agent Shirley Fauteux - also the union steward for town department heads - filed a grievance claiming that Mr. Dutton had violated the collective bargaining agreement and state law by removing the building inspector position from the union.
Mr. Dutton on Tuesday dismissed the notion that he had deceived selectmen. He described the pay change as a simple housekeeping measure to bring Mr. Wiener's salary in line with what was previously negotiated. The plan to change building inspector's duties - and possibly his title - was an entirely separate issue, Mr. Dutton said.
Mr. Dutton said he removed Mr. Wiener from the town union for department heads after consulting draft notes from a meeting last year between union officials and Ms. Sharpe. At that meeting, union leaders allegedly agreed to allow the building inspector position to be taken out of the union.
But officials from the Association of Federal and State and County Municipal Employees claim there is no evidence the meeting ever took place. In a Jan. 17 letter to Mr. Dutton, Mr. Fauteux wrote: "The union has no recollection or documentation that such discussions took place, nor was any agreement made between the town and [the union]."
Ms. Fauteux said yesterday she has asked to see copies of the draft notes from the meeting from Mr. Dutton, and was still waiting to receive them.
After receiving a letter from Michael Medeiros on Jan. 12 stating there was no record of the meting, Mr. Dutton immediately placed Mr. Wiener back into the union and sent a letter back to Mr. Medeiros.
"I am afraid I have to accept the responsibility for a misunderstanding that has taken place regarding the building inspector position - having been proven mistaken, the position will be returned to the Unit immediately," Mr. Dutton wrote.
Mr. Dutton on Tuesday acknowledged the confusion over the disputed meeting between Ms. Sharpe and union officials. He also addressed another issue that created a stir this past week: news that four department heads had received one-time bonuses between July 2005 and June 2006.
The bonuses ranged from $7,500 to $10,000, and went to the town highway department superintendent, the head librarian, the harbor master and an information technology director who no longer works for the town.Mr. Dutton said there was nothing illegal or unethical about the one-time payments - awarded by Ms. Sharpe before he took job last summer. He said the payments were authorized by the town accountant before they went to selectmen in the form of payroll warrants for final approval.
"A system of checks and balances does exist," Mr. Dutton said.
Selectman Roger Wey thanked Mr. Dutton for the explanation, but said he was still concerned about awarding bonuses to a select few employees. Mr. Wey said he had no reason to believe the payments were illegal or unethical, but said they were granted in a manner that lacked oversight.
"I'll be honest, we can't even tell what we are signing [on the warrants]," Mr. Wey said following the meeting. "It has become a trend now in Oak Bluffs - that [the selectmen] find out about these things after they have already been paid out."
Calling for more openness and accountability on personnel matters, Mr. Wey asked Mr. Dutton to make all payroll warrants - with a complete breakdown of payments - available to selectmen before they sign them.
Selectman Kerry Scott echoed Mr. Wey's remarks.
"It wasn't who got these [bonuses]; it was who didn't receive them that disturbed me. We are trying to promote fairness and parity in the workplace, and I think these payments send the wrong message," she said.
During the public comment session at the close of the meeting, former selectman Linda Marinelli said she planned to file a written complaint with the state Attorney General calling for an audit of town financial records and an investigation into the one-time bonuses.
"You cannot give one person a raise because they know somebody, and then leave out the poor sucker who has worked for the town for 20 years," Ms. Marinelli said.
The discussion followed a brief meeting with the town personnel committee on the issue of personal service contracts, which are allowed by state law but with guidelines that suggest they be limited to only handful of positions such as town administrator, police and fire chief.
Personnel board chairman Mimi Davisson said the town has a total of 16 contracts, five of them related to the town wastewater department. She said the board wants to frame a new set of town personnel bylaws, and recommends the establishment of uniform pay scales for all jobs, a policy for granting raises and bonuses and a policy establishing who is eligible to receive personal service contracts.