The director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging mismanaged money in connection with a charitable fund dating back to at least 2001, although not for personal gain, and he may have violated more than one state law in the process.
This is the conclusion of a special auditors’ report released this week by the Oak Bluffs selectmen on the activity of Roger Wey, who remains on paid leave as council on aging director.
The report from auditors at Melanson, Heath, & Company, a certified public accounting firm hired by the selectmen two months ago, was released to the public after a nearly three-hour executive session Tuesday evening. Mr. Wey and his attorney attended part of the executive session.
Mr. Wey was placed on leave in February after questions surfaced about what is known as the Quilting Fund, a town fund created to help citizens in need pay for fuel and other necessities. Mr. Wey played a role in connecting needy individuals with assistance from the fund, which was managed outside the town treasury.
In February the selectmen called publicly for a police investigation into the fund, but the investigation resulted in no criminal charges. The selectmen then called for a forensic audit, acting on the advice of their special labor counsel John M. (Jack) Collins.
In a memorandum that accompanied the auditors’ report this week, Mr. Collins said the report confirms suspicions raised by the town accountant this past February.
“The report concludes that numerous laws appear to have been violated, that even the most basic accounting and reporting was lacking, that the director used his position to direct or divert monies to private entities, ” Mr. Collins wrote in part in his memorandum.
He said the report provides a “basis for the board to consider disciplinary and other action.”
Mr. Collins outlined several possible actions the selectmen could take, including disciplining, laying off or negotiating a severance agreement with Mr. Wey. He also said the selectmen could report the apparent violations to a list of other state agencies, including the Massachusetts Attorney General, the state police, the Massachusetts Inspector General and the ethics commission.
Mr. Collins also noted that Susan Von Steiger, the council on aging outreach coordinator who with Mr. Wey delivered assistance money out of the Quilting Fund, had requested that her hours be reduced now that she was no longer facilitating the fund.
“The same might be true of the director’s position,” Mr. Collins wrote. He also said Mr. Wey had been the subject of bullying complaints from another senior center employee.
The auditors’ report found that Mr. Wey authorized the fund to operate outside the town treasury, and failed to perform the reporting and record keeping required for charitable fund management.
Auditors detailed seven apparent violations, including the use of town time and town facilities for the benefit of the fund.
The audit found that from October 2007 until February 2014, the fund received $34,861.46 and disbursed a total of $29,698.
The report said Mr. Wey did not appear to have diverted funds for personal gain, nor had anyone else involved.
“We . . . . did not see evidence that payments were made out of the Quilting Fund or Fuel Assistance bank accounts for purposes that were not related to fundraising costs or assistance payments or evidence that any of the parties involved benefited personally,” the report states.
The absence of proper record keeping made a thorough study difficult, the report said, as the auditors were unable to ascertain who had received emergency assistance from the fund. No written applications were submitted to determine need for assistance, nor were records kept on who had received funds, according to the audit.
The report was received by the selectman last week and a copy was provided to Mr. Wey and his attorney, but it was not made public until this week. On Tuesday about 60 people attended the selectmen’s meeting, many of them senior citizens.
The meeting began at 4:30 p.m. in the meeting room in the Oak Bluffs library, but selectmen moved upstairs to a conference room to conduct the executive session portion, which they said involved “threatened litigation.”
Mr. Wey and his attorney were invited to attend part of the executive session.
At 6:30 p.m., the library was scheduled to conduct a reading and book signing in the same room; the meeting was subsequently relocated to the basement of the town hall, where those in attendance awaited the return of the selectmen from executive session.
Town resident Esther Hopkins questioned town administrator Robert L. Whritenour about whether the change of location complied with the open meeting law.
“There is a question about the legality of the meeting,” she said.
Mr. Whritenour said town attorneys had authorized the move.
When the selectmen returned, they said no agreement had been reached with Mr. Wey and that they would take the matter under advisement.
“I apologize that it took so long,” said board chairman Gregory Coogan. “We weren’t quite able to come to an agreement.” He said the selectmen would revisit the issue at their regular meeting next Tuesday.
He declined to comment on the auditors’ report.
Earlier in the meeting while the selectmen were still in executive session, Mr. Wey’s attorney Paul Merry said in his view the auditor’s investigation had a similar outcome as the police investigation.
“There was no basis for serious allegations to be brought against Mr. Wey,” he said.
Mr. Merry said that an agreement had been close, but ultimately fell apart as a result of some last-minute issues.
“We tried very hard to come to an agreement that would have spared further expense and difficulty to the town and would have put Mr. Wey back where he belongs at the council on aging,” the attorney said.
After the meeting, he elaborated slightly on the process.
“It’s always difficult to do things under the gun,” Mr. Merry told the Gazette. “It came down to some specific points of language that we wanted.”
While the meeting was still in session, Mr. Wey thanked the audience for staying to hear the result.
“All I want to do is go back to work and help all the people I have been helping all these years,” he said.