Board of Selectmen Needs to Act On Complaint About Abuse of Hours

In February the Pepperell board of selectmen received a written complaint from the town’s assistant assessor alleging threats to her job security because she raised concerns about employees being allowed by the town administrator (at that time) to be paid for hours they did not work.

While side-stepping their responsibilities to address the concerns of the assistant assessor’s job being threatened, the board of selectmen asked her for more details about the alleged payment to certain employees for hours not worked.

In April the assistant assessor presented the board members with more details.

The Candle has asked the board members what they have done in response to the complaint, but has received only one response from selectwoman Lisa Ferolito, who asked last week that the chair, Roland Nutter, place the complaint on the agenda for tonight’s board of selectmen meeting.

The item is conspicuously missing from the agenda.

This issue of certain town employees being shown alleged favoritism by being paid for hours not actually worked has created a serious morale issue at not only town hall, but in other departments scattered about the town where employees are held to the standard of working the hours the town pays them to work.

One of the positions that is alleged to be among those given the preferential treatment is held by the spouse of the chair of the board of selectmen.

The chair has not responded to questions The Candle sent to him and the other board members regarding what action the board has or will take about the alleged abuse of employee hours.

But the chair appears to have omitted the matter from the meeting agenda for the board, despite the request from his colleague to place it on the agenda.

This avoidance could be considered an act of omission.

The state of Massachusetts has clear and specific rules relative to real and perceived conflicts of interest.

In a guidance for members of select boards throughout the state, the Public Education Division of the State Ethics Commission has written the following on a webpage dedicated to assisting public officials in dealing with conflicts of interest and other ethical matters:

Board of Selectmen members- Explanation of the conflict of interest law

RESTRICTIONS ON YOUR ACTIONS

Self-Dealing (Section 19)

The law generally prohibits you from taking any official action on matters affecting your own financial interests, or the financial interests of: your immediate family members (i.e., your spouse and the parents, siblings and children of either you or your spouse); partners; your employer(s) other than your town; anyone with whom you are negotiating or have an arrangement concerning prospective employment; or organizations for which you serve as an officer, director, partner, employee or trustee.  As a Selectman, you may not act in any way that affects these interests, positively or negatively, nor may you act on any matter that affects these interests within the foreseeable future. If a matter affecting one of these interests comes up for consideration at a Selectmen’s meeting, the wisest course of action is to leave the room during discussion, deliberation and the vote on the matter, and make sure that the minutes of the meeting reflect your recusal.

The prohibition on acting in these matters is very broad. You may not participate as a selectman in any way: you may not vote on these matters; you may not participate in, moderate or chair discussions; you may not delegate these matters to a subordinate; you may not prepare official documents concerning these matters; and you may not take any other type of official action regarding these matters.

The chair needs to make clear that he has not participated in “any way” regarding the matters in the complaint of alleged abuse due to his spouse’s position being among those listed in the complaint.

He should have informed his two colleagues of the conflict of interest that he might have and allowed them to see that the matter be placed on the agenda to be addressed.

The remaining board members, both of whom have expressed concern about the employee hours issues, should move quickly to have the complaint properly and fairly investigated.

(The Candle will publish a story about the complaint referred to in this editorial early Monday afternoon, August 13, 2018. – NOTE: Due to additional information, the story referred to will be published late Monday evening, or early Tuesday morning.)

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