AYER -- The Ayer Personnel Board suggested a meeting with selectmen is needed to work through the lingering job reclassification request made by assistant treasurer Melisa Doig.

Doig seeks to recast her job into one of payroll/benefits manager. Selectmen revised the personnel policy this spring, permitting Doig's reclassification request to proceed to the Personnel Board for study, circumventing the wishes of Treasurer Stephanie Gintner.

But lingering in the air was the question: Who is the "appointing authority" for the assistant treasurer? The appointing authority retains the final say under the town's personnel policy to approve or deny the reclassification request.

The Personnel Board sought clarification from both selectmen and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

On a split 3-2 vote, the Ayer Board of Selectmen voted on Aug. 21 that it is the appointing authority for the assistant treasurer. Doig's attorney, Peter Nicosia, has made the same assertion.

Gintner, who was elected treasurer in 2010, maintains that the treasurer appoints the assistant treasurer. Doig herself reports being appointed by former Treasurer John Horgan.

On Sept. 19, Personnel Board member Brian Muldoon advised his peers of his Aug. 9 conversation with a DOR attorney. Muldoon said the DOR opinion directly contradicts the selectmen's stance.

"He made it clear that the treasurer was the appointing authority," said Muldoon. "If you have an assistant treasurer, it's the Treasurer - he was pretty blunt."

"If the treasurer didn't want the reclassification, it should end there," said Muldoon, paraphrasing the attorney's comments.

Gintner has maintained that Ayer town government is not large enough to justify a separate payroll/benefits manager. Gintner has noted that the number of town employees is down following the official formation of the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District on July 1, 2011.

In January 2011, there were 312 employees on the books (with 101 "town" and 211 "school" employees). With the new school district online, 60 percent of the payroll and health benefit administration shifted to the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District. In December 2011, 129 employees remained on the Ayer payroll.

Muldoon and Personnel Board Chair Kathleen O'Connor agreed that Doig's request is more akin to a new job, and not a reclassification of her present assistant treasurer post. Personnel Board member Lisa White felt the reclassification was appropriate.

"It looks to me to be a new job," said Muldoon. "I look at a 'reclassification' as someone who is a secretary promoted to a senior secretary. But this is totally different.

O'Connor agreed, calling Doig's proposed job duties "significantly different" from her assistant treasurer post, adding the request is "more of a new job than a reclassification."

The board struggled to find comparatively-sized towns with a payroll/benefits manager. Often the duties are split between various town officials.

"I don't feel we have any good comps on this," said O'Connor. "I'd be happy with any one town that had anything similar."

"I agree," said White. "It is all over the place."

White questioned why the board sought the DOR's advice at all. "My opinion is we were appointed by the Board of Selectmen. It's not up to us to go to the DOR or town counsel and ask if we can do this because that's what we're here for."

"You are an independent board in the sense of your functions," said Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. "You have the authority to do whatever you need to do whether it's contact the DOR or whatever resources I can provide."

Muldoon also said the DOR attorney suggested that there is no statutory reason to maintain an assistant treasurer, though the post could be mandated by town charter. But Ayer does not have a town charter.

Muldoon said the attorney also advised that the assistant treasurer can wear another title like payroll/benefits manager. "I'm looking at it as a compromise -- is there a way to make everybody as happy as we can?" said Muldoon. "We're not going to make everybody totally happy."

But O'Connor noted that if Gintner opposes the reclassification, "it sort of leaves us in a gray area as far as payroll and benefits manager."

This summer, Doig informed the Personnel Board that 90 percent of her duties are not detailed in her present assistant treasurer job description.

White had earlier spurned any talk that Doig was seeking a human resources management post. But at the meeting, White claimed that Doig has increasingly assumed HR duties.

Selectman Pauline Conley asked Pontbriand to prepare a memo on what HR functions Doig currently performs.

Pontbriand noted that Doig prepares the biweekly payroll but that the treasurer fulfills that task in Doig's absence.

Health benefits have "always been under the treasurer's office" until this past year, when Doig assisted with health plan negotiations with the unions "at my request," said Pontbriand. "Again, health insurance, to my understanding, has been under the purview of the treasurer's office for some time."

Personnel files were moved into Doig's office by prior Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski. Despite the physical relocation of the records, Pontbriand asserted, "I am the custodian of the records for the Board of Selectmen and the records are under the Board of Selectmen."

Hiring decisions, employment contracts, union negotiations, grievances actions and firings are performed by Pontbriand, selectmen and town counsel. But Pontbriand said he would draft a memo detailing Doig's current duties for selectmen and the Personnel Board. Pontbriand said, for example, he was uncertain whether Doig is trained on sexual harassment.

Gintner previously held Doig's job from 1991 through 1998. Echoing Pontbriand, Gintner said that Doig's new-found health insurance duties were "not really HR things that I gave her. These are things that were given to her (by selectmen) to increase her job duties to qualify changing her position to the benefits/payroll manager."

"I see your point," said O'Connor. "Although from my perspective, her duties have increased under the Board of Selectmen who made the job reclassification request of us."

Muldoon said another looming question is how the new job would be funded. Muldoon said he was troubled by Doig's assertion that only 10 percent of her job is related to the assistant treasurer title and job description.

"I did hear that," said Gintner. "I did not agree with that."

"I'm wondering why an assistant treasurer is only doing assistant treasurer's work 10 percent of the time. That has a lot of bearing on me," said Muldoon. "Why do we fund that position full time?"

Aside from selectmen-assigned work, Gintner said "everything" Doig does is assistant treasurer's work. But Gintner agreed the job description for assistant treasurer "should be changed to reflect more of what she actually does."

Gintner suggested the DOR opinion is "more important than whatever the selectmen vote on. They can say the moon is made out of green cheese but that doesn't make it so." Muldoon said the DOR will not reduce its opinion to writing without formal written request.

Conley suggested that town counsel, likewise, had earlier signaled to selectmen that the treasurer is the appointing authority for the assistant treasurer. Pontbriand said he awaits an opinion letter on the topic from town counsel.

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