Dynamic Process, or Some Slick Moves Among Cronies? Town Meeting Gets Robbed of Vote.
Pepperell – When former Town Administrator Mark Andrews opened discussion on the FY 2019 town budget at Pepperell’s annual town meting in May, he stated to residents, “It’s been a very dynamic budget process this fiscal year.”
What Andrews didn’t let on was that he and two members of the board of selectmen had rigged the process to lock in a 15% pay raise for Andrews.
While Andrews and (then) Selectwoman Melissa Tzanoudakis and Selectman Roland Nutter were arranging to give Andrews a $17,260 raise, they were also telling most other departments they had to hold the line on spending.
The third member of the board, Selectwoman Lisa Ferolito refused to support Andrews’ money grab.
She recently told The Candle, “There were many other budget priorities needing money. To give that kind of a raise was a slap in the face of other hard-working employees and the taxpayers.”
“And on top of that Mark wasn’t doing a good enough job for any pay raise. Look at the way he failed to tell the board of selectmen, or at least me and new Selectman Bill Greathead, about the Nashua Road gravel pit proposal.
“We had to drag it out of him in May, even though he had meetings back in December and February,” stated Ferolito.
Residents and other officials have also complained that Andrews’ performance as town administrator was not deserving of a pay raise, citing his the failure to assure board of selectmen minutes were up to date for months on end, the annual town report still not being completed, and his attempt to be given the authority to sell off the Peter Fitzpatrick School property without a serious use assessment being done on the complex.
He also sowed discord among many employees due to his personnel practices and the blatant favoritism he showed when he doled out pay raises and allowed some highly paid employees to regularly work reduced hours and still be paid full time wages.
As the 2018 town elections were approaching though, it appeared that Andrews’ practices might be challenged by a change in the composition of the board of selectmen – his boss.
In 2017, Lisa Ferolito was elected on a write-in campaign by many town voters who tired of the Andrews’ regime.
But she was only one vote of three.
Both Tzanoudakis and Nutter prevailed in advancing Andrews’ policies and largesse.
On February 12, 2018, Andrews informed Pepperell’s assistant assessor Maureen Bolger that her request to extend her assistant’s hours was not approved to be included in the FY 2019 budget Andrews would present to the board of selectmen that evening.
Andrews claimed there was no money for it.
What Andrews did not mention to Bolger was, according to a new contract he was negotiating for himself on or about that same day with two members of the board of selectmen (Tzanoudakis and Nutter), his personal annualized salary would increase from $108,740 to $126,000 in the FY 2019 budget.
It is unclear why Tzanoudakis and Nutter felt it necessary to negotiate with Andrews for a new contract in early 2018, as he already had a contract that did not expire until November of 2019.
Andrews’ new contract was being negotiated despite criticism by residents about Andrews violating a provision in his then existing contract in which he promised not to seek full time employment from another employer, if at all, before December 31, 2018.
Andrews broke that promise, when he applied for a job as town manager for West Newbury in December of 2017.
After he was not hired by the West Newbury board of selectmen, and despite his failure to keep his word to the town of Pepperell, Tzanoudakis and Nutter began the process of changing Andrews’ contract and giving him the big raise – even while knowing other departments had greater needs.
Andrew’s refusal to submit Bolger’s request for an increase for her assistant, is revealed in a complaint filed by Bolger to the board of selectmen the following day, February 13, 2018.
Bolger’s complaint alleged threats of retaliation because she pointed out to Andrews that he was allowing certain department heads to be paid for hours they did not work.
Bolger felt the overpayment was fraudulent, and that the overpayment would be better spent on positions that actually needed more hours allotted.
Responding to Bolger’s complaint and request that the board look into the matter, (then) Chairwoman Melissa Tzanoudakis wrote “In your letter, you allege that the Town Administrator “is committing fraud every time he knowingly signs a time card that says a person worked 40 hours when they leave (sic) outwardly do not.” Please provide me with specific facts to support this serious allegation, including the name(s) of the individual(s) involved in this allegation.”
According to documents The Candle received from the town clerk, Tzanoudakis copied the other members of the board of selectmen and Andrews.
Bolger responded with more detail on April 20, 2018, in a letter she delivered to all three members of the board of selectmen.
One of the positions identified as allegedly being allowed to bill for hours not actually worked for town business was for the position of treasurer/collector.
That position is filled by the wife of Selectman Nutter.
Also, at about the same time Tzanoudakis and Nutter were negotiating a new contract for Andrews, Nutter’s wife was in contract negotiations with Andrews.
Selectwoman Ferolito argued against both Andrews’ and Nutter’s contracts being acted upon before the election of a new member to the board of selectmen.
Selectman Nutter could not vote on his wife’s contract because of the obvious conflict of interest, and with Ferolito opposing it nothing happened until after the election of William Greathead at the end of April.
But Nutter continued to push for it to be signed – which is also against the state ethic’s guidance on self-dealing, an issue which will be covered in Monday’s story.
Greathead, who ran on a platform of reforming the way town hall was being run, voted with Ferolito against the Nutter contract when it came up again after the election.
But Andrews got Tzanoudakis and Nutter to sign his contract at a meeting in April – even though residents were questioning their actions.
At that May 7, 2018 Annual Town Meeting, a local resident, Dave Lavender made a motion to amend the general governement part of the budget to reduce the amount of available funds for Andrews’ position back to the level in his original contract which was in place before Tzanoudakis and Nutter voted on April 10, 2018 to give him the new contract.
As soon as his motion was seconded, Town Counsel Ned Richardson was summoned to the podium.
Richardson announced that the Andrews’ contract and raise was essentially beyond the reach of the town’s voters, stating Andrews “has a contract and if you reduce the amount that’s a breach of contract. He could recover that in court.”
The town moderator was advised by Richardson that he had to rule Lavender’s motion out of order.
Andrews sat through the remainder of the town meeting knowing he, Tzanoudakis and Nutter had effectively taken away the townspeople’s right to vote on his pay raise.
Tomorrow: Conflicts of Interest Explored – and links to Bolger’s Complaint, and other important Documents.