AYER -- Assistant treasurer Melisa Doig made her pitch to the Personnel Board on July 18 to reclassify her job into one akin to a Human Resources director. The job has never existed in town government.
The pitch came two days after Doig's 10-month-old complaint against her boss, Treasurer Stephanie Gintner, concluded. The selectmen voted 3-2 to censure Gintner on Doig's claim that Gintner accessed Doig's email account and deleted emails in violation of town policy. The decision was admittedly made based on circumstantial evidence.
Doig had requested reclassification earlier but Gintner rejected the request, stating the town was too small to require such a post.
When the email complaint was made, selectmen voted in December to assign temporary supervision of Doig to Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. Gintner opposed the move, which the board has since extended through June 30, 2013.
The Treasurer's Department consists of Gintner and Doig. Gintner was empowered to reject Doig's reclassification request under the then-controlling 2003 personnel policy which vested the right in Doig's "appointing authority" -- Gintner.
But on May 22, selectmen voted 3-2 to revert to a 1999 personnel policy that allowed the board to move requests onto the Personnel Board for review. However, the final say on the reclassification remains with Doig's "appointing authority."
Doig refilled her reclassification request with selectmen on June 1. Five days later,
The funding for an HR director post has not been identified. Gintner has warned that she'll seek a legal remedy if selectmen attempt to use Town Meeting-approved Treasurer Department funding for anything but an assistant treasurer.
Needing at least three members to meet, Personnel Board Chairwoman Kathleen O'Connor said her five-member panel, which has two vacancies, has been "unable to achieve a quorum." O'Connor said Doig's request must be handled by the Personnel Board within 30 days, or by Aug. 17, unless granted an extension by Doig.
The panel is comprised of O'Connor, Ayer Fire Department secretary Lisa White as an employee representative, and Finance Committee member Brian Muldoon, who attended his first meeting as a board member that evening.
Doig's attorney, Peter Nicosia, nibbled at the email controversy. Nicosia said selectmen were empowered to switch oversight of Doig to Pontbriand. He said the power rests in Massachusetts General Law Chapter 41, Section 39A.
The law states that a treasurer appoints an assistant treasurer with selectmen approval. But Nicosia implied that statute also means by extrapolation that "direct employment and management of that position may also be -- and I emphasize 'may' -- rest with the treasurer, but that is also subject to the Board of Selectmen."
"Management of the new position will continue in its present revised form under the new job title," suggested Nicosia. "What we would not be looking for is this job reclassification to occur with the current title and funding."
Doig's "functions won't change" and management by the selectmen "will also not change," said Nicosia.
Muldoon asked if Doig's duties have changed since she was first appointed in 1998.
"Definitely," said Doig. Health benefits and "retiree information and that sort of stuff" is more involved now.
Doig estimated that 90 to 95 percent of her job was HR-related, stating that "many" towns have shifted to having an HR manager.
"Statutorily, some of these jobs are set, as their initial job descriptions are done, and they're never revisited," argued Nicosia. Human-resources functions have been "naturally absorbed" by assistant treasurers, but "growing pains" cause the "reassessing of job functions and job titles ... I think that's the case here."
Since there's no funding for the new post, Muldoon asked, "What if it doesn't pass Town Meeting?"
The functions must continue, admitted Nicosia. But Doig's endgame if the job is "going to continue to be coined assistant treasurer is for "continued separation" of the treasurer and assistant treasurer "so the job functions would still be performed under the old title but under the new management," said Nicosia.
"Town Meeting, as you know, is a funny organization," said Nicosia. "You stack the room and you get the vote. Unfortunately, sometimes there's a lot of (voter) apathy."
Nicosia hoped "with the appropriate presentation to the town body, which I would be involved with, reasonable minds would prevail."
"This is just a pathway," said Nicosia of the Personnel Board appearance. "I don't see your vote as dispositive of anything."
Town Meeting "looks to you as the learned officials," said Nicosia. "Your opinion is valuable, but it doesn't prevent it from getting to the warrant."
"I don't know what your intent was tonight, but the selectmen are anticipating a recommendation" on the job description, pay grade and the reclassification itself, said Pontbriand. Doig earns $45,836 according to the 2011 Town Report.
O'Connor said the Personnel Board would first need to compare like-sized communities with similarly situated budgets and employee counts. "We're going to have to know that when we go out and look for comps."
Gintner handed out copies of the statute Nicosia had referenced. "I'm glad she gave you the statute," said Nicosia. He suggested a read of the law "dispels the myth" that the treasurer "has control over" the assistant treasurer.
"She does not," Nicosia asserted. "I believe your town counsel also agrees with that as well."
"Get an opinion from town counsel rather than take Ms. Doig's attorney's explanation of that answer," advised Gintner.
Since Ayer town counsel represents the Board of Selectmen, Selectman Pauline Conley suggested from the audience, "I would respectfully request you get a neutral recommendation from the Department of Revenue which oversees the treasurer and assistant treasurer. I think they'd be the best source of information for you."
Selectman Gary Luca, a proponent of Doig's reclassification effort, sat silently in the audience.
O'Connor said the board needed time "to do further research".
During the meeting, Nicosia commented that Doig was "re-appointed" annually by selectmen, in support of his argument that selectmen have management authority over the assistant treasurer.
But, after the meeting ended, Pontbriand said that was not the practice in Ayer. "It's never been done annually," agreed Doig, with Nicosia standing by her side in the hallway.
Coincidentally, selectmen approved a slate of reappointments just the night before. Doig's reappointment was not on the list.