AYER - The quorum-challenged Ayer Personnel Board failed to meet on Sept. 13. It's the second time the board failed to meet in a week's time.
On Sept. 7, Chair Kathleen O'Connor and Brian Muldoon, the Ayer Finance Committee's representative to the board, met at Ayer Town Hall for a scheduled Friday night meeting. However, fellow member and employee representative Lisa White did not appear.
On Thursday, Sept. 13, a 5 p.m. email from Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand alerted officials and the media that he had just been contacted by a board representative and that the evening's 7 p.m. Personnel Board meeting was cancelled due to a lack of quorum. It was not clear from the email which member of the three was unable to attend.
The three Personnel Board members appeared before the Finance Committee the night before. All indicated at that time that they'd be present for the Personnel Board meeting the following night
For the board to conduct business, all three current Personnel Board members must be present. There are two vacancies on the 5-member Personnel Board at this time, and so any absence cancels a Personnel Board meeting.
Anyone interested in serving on the Personnel Board should send a resume to Pontbriand at email@example.com. Pontbriand makes a recommendation to the selectmen who appoint all but the Finance Committee representative to the Personnel Board (the five Finance Committee members are appointed by the Town Moderator).
It's a position that Treasurer Stephanie Gintner contends is not necessary for a town Ayer's size, especially after the regionalization of the Ayer schools into its own district with Shirley in 2011.
The Personnel Board is investigating how payroll and benefits are handled in other like-sized communities. The board is also investigating who appoints the Assistant Treasurer - a critical question in a tug-of-war between the selectmen and Treasurer.
The Personnel Board asked the Board of Selectmen for its interpretation. Without first hearing the opinion of the town's attorney, the selectmen voted 3-2 vote on Aug. 21 to advise the Personnel Board that the Board of Selectmen appoints the Assistant Treasurer.
That night, Pontbriand told the selectmen that a memo on the issue was originally due earlier that day from Town Counsel David Jenkins. The memo was not included in the selectmen's subsequent Sept. 11 meeting package.
Nashoba Publishing requested a copy of town counsel's memo. Pontbriand responded on Sept. 17 that attorney David Jenkins "has not completed his legal opinion letter for the BOS regarding the 'Appointing Authority' for the Assistant Treasurer." When the letter is completed and sent, Pontbriand said he'd copy the selectmen, the Personnel Board and Nashoba Publishing with a copy.
Meanwhile, the Personnel Board simultaneously sought the advice of the state Department of Revenue. Muldoon confirms that he has the DOR's answer on the ultimate Appointing Authority and would present his findings to the full Personnel Board. Muldoon said the DOR did not reduce its opinion on the matter to writing.
Having failed to meet Sept. 7 and Sept. 13, the Personnel Board was next scheduled to meet this Wed. Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. at Ayer Town Hall. Gintner and Doig have tussled over the interpretation of the controlling state law - Massachusetts General Law Chapter 41, Section 39A. The law states, "The treasurer of a city or town may in writing appoint, with the approval of the mayor or the selectmen thereof, an assistant treasurer ."
Gintner and her attorney Daniel Gelb have interpreted the law to state that Gintner, as Treasurer, is the Appointing Authority over Doig. Doig maintains that she was appointed in the 1980s by former Treasurer John Horgan.
However, Doig and her attorney Peter Nicosia maintain that the Assistant Treasurer post is filled only with selectmen approval and is a person re-appointed annual by the selectmen. However, Doig acknowledges it has not been the practice of the Ayer selectmen to re-appoint her annually during her 20+ year tenure.
The interpretation of the "Appointing Authority" is critical under Ayer's Personnel Policy. An employee seeking a reclassification now makes an initial request of the Town Administrator, but the final approval rests with the "Appointing Authority."
-"OPEN MIND" UPDATE
On a related note, Pontbriand stated on Aug. 21 that he'd report back to the board of selectmen at its Sept. 11 meeting on his findings regarding Nashoba Publishing's Aug. 17 editorial entitled "Open Mind." The editorial critiques emails sent by a female member of a Personnel Board from an unspecified town.
"We received an email from a Personnel Board member in one of our towns," reads the editorial. "She made very clear her dislike for a person in the town's employ, telling us in no uncertain terms why this person should not be in the position she holds."
"Since that person is involved in a personnel matter with another town worker, it is a certainty that issues relating to one or the other of them is destined for the Personnel Board," continues the editorial. "But will she get a fair hearing?"
Ayer selectman Christopher Hillman asked Pontbriand to investigate the circumstances around the editorial. Hillman noted that, except for Ayer, no other town government covered by Nashoba Publishing was experiencing controversy with its Personnel Board.
Pontbriand commented that he'd read the editorial. "I'll investigate the matter and submit a memo to this board - or is there something else you're looking for?" The selectmen appoint four of the five members of the Personnel Board.
Pontbriand said his investigation's findings would be reduced to a memo to be "completed no later than the Sept. 11 meeting." However the matter was no discussed by the board on Sept. 11.
"The editorial - and this is just my opinion - the way it was written in my opinion indicates that it's the Ayer Personnel Board," said Pontbriand. "And it raises some questions and concerns in some very I'm at a loss for words "
"Impropriety?" suggested selectman Gary Luca.
" with regard to the matter in front of them," agreed Pontbriand. "We all know what that matter is."
Pontbriand indicated on Sept. 17 "I have not completed my 'inquest' and its accompanying memo" for the selectmen. Likewise, when the memo is complete, Pontbriand indicated it will be shared with the selectmen, the Personnel Board and Nashoba Publishing.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata and facebook.com/mary.arata.