Ending a four-month controversy, the Oak Bluffs selectmen voted Tuesday to dismiss council on aging director Roger Wey.
The decision will be effective June 30.
Mr. Wey has been on paid administrative leave since February when the town began an investigation into alleged mismanagement of a fuel assistance charity fund connected to the senior center. He has held the job for nearly 10 years, he said on Tuesday.
The vote came following a discussion about possible ways to reorganize the council on aging. The board voted 4-1 to lay off Mr. Wey.
“I move that we lay off the director, effective June 30, so we can move forward with a new plan for the council on aging,” selectman Walter Vail said in his motion.
Selectman Gail Barmakian opposed. “A very strong nay for this one,” Ms. Barmakian said.
In voting, the selectmen endorsed a recommendation from town administrator Robert L. Whritenour to restructure the staff hierarchy at the senior center, granting more managerial authority to the council itself and eliminating the director position.
The selectmen’s decision came at the suggestion of town labor counsel John (Jack) M. Collins, who advised that it would likely take three to four months to restructure the organization according to Mr. Whritenour’s plan. It is not clear whether a town meeting vote is required to reorganize the staff.
Mr. Collins suggested that the board leave the position of director unfilled as of July 1, until the town administrator, personnel board and the council on aging are prepared to implement an improved personnel structure.
The town administrator’s recommendations thus far are detailed in a report he prepared at the request of chairman Gregory Coogan.
“I asked Bob to take a long look at the council on aging and I also asked him to look into the other councils on aging, and to give us a plan so that we could move forward,” Mr. Coogan said.
Mr. Whritenour spoke in general terms about the conflict among staff members that has beset the senior center for many years. He said the organization has been divided into opposing camps, with parties on each side vehemently defending their positions.
“In order to break the present cycle and to seriously impact this culture and focus the whole council on aging department on services, it is going to take some significant reorganization of that department,” Mr. Whritenour said.
In the report he prepared for selectmen, Mr. Whritenour wrote that over time, the director and assistant director have leveled grievances against each other, including charges and counter charges of harassment.
In 2012, an investigator hired to study the conflict at the council on aging found that the director had engaged in bullying behavior toward the assistant director, according to Mr. Whritenour’s report.
When Mr. Whritenour tried to stop the bullying, Mr. Wey filed a grievance against the town administrator, the report says.
In his proposal, Mr. Whritenour suggested empowering the council with direct oversight over the senior center and dividing the agency into two branches: programming and outreach. An administrator to the council would carry out the center’s programs at the council’s direction.
“In order to move forward, it seems that to leave the conflict behind and create a new era of senior services in our community, the council on aging itself needs to be structured in a way that it has more of a governing role over its services,” Mr. Whritenour said.
The proposal also recommends that the council on aging conduct performance evaluations and be the first to hear grievances among personnel.
Mr. Whritenour also said the outreach arm of the organization has been underperforming. While Edgartown’s council on aging reaches out to 60 to 70 elders outside of their center per week, Oak Bluffs only engages about 10 through their outreach programs.
“We have a professional outreach program that is not reaching the numbers that we would like to see it to reach,” Mr. Whritenour said. “It is not robust as it needs to be. In comparison with the other communities, it is miniscule.”
Mr. Whritenour said Oak Bluffs has the highest population of senior citizens.
For many years, outreach at the senior center has been involved in the distribution of fuel assistance.
Mr. Wey was placed on leave in February after questions surfaced about the so-called Quilting Fund, a town fund created to help those in need pay for fuel and other necessities. Mr. Wey has said he played a role in connecting people 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 Mr. Collins’ advice.
The auditors found that Mr. Wey had mismanaged money in connection with the fund, although not for personal gain, possibly violating more than one state law in the process.
At the meeting on Tuesday, selectman Kathleen Burton spoke in favor of strengthening the partnership between the staff and the council on aging board. “Half of the people who go to the council on aging now think it’s great, while the other half think it’s a problem,” she said.
In addition, she said there are others who are not served at all by the senior center.
“There are a whole lot of people who don’t go to the council on aging because they don’t appreciate the energy that is going on now at the council on aging,” Ms. Burton said. “We have an opportunity to do something good and right and positive and I think this is a good suggestion.”
Mr. Vail agreed. “I think we have got to try something new,” he said.
Ms. Barmakian said in her research she was unable to find a town or city in the commonwealth that does not have a council on aging director.
“I for one think you need to be really cautious and look into this more before we give the council on aging the power reflected in this letter,” she said, referring to Mr. Whritenour’s recommendations.
But Robert Blythe, president of the council on aging, said with increased involvement, his board could improve on the programming available to seniors.
“We on the board are not interested in becoming dictators, we are interested in becoming managing partners,” he said. “Basically if we can review the programs that are introduced, then that person as an administrator can carry them out.”
Some 40 people attended the meeting, but board chairman Gregory Coogan took no comments from the public.
“They can’t get you from one investigation, they can’t get you from another issue, so they just lay you off,” Mr. Wey said following the board’s decision.
In a phone conversation with the Gazette Wednesday, Mr. Wey expressed concern about the cost of entire investigation and subsequent negotiations.
“People have complained to me, what is it costing, what benefit did the townspeople get out of all of this nonsense?” he said.
He also expressed concerns that the senior center would be under-staffed during its busiest two months of the year.
“Who suffers in this whole thing is the seniors,” he said. “They are not being serviced. They are going to be short-handed.”