AYER -- After months of turmoil and study over the request, the Ayer Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 against the reclassification request of Assistant Treasurer Melisa Doig to become the town's payroll/benefits manager -- a five-grade pay increase which would have made her salary more than that of Treasurer Stephanie Gintner.

The board also voted 3-2 to nix its multimonth stance and return supervision of Doig from Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand to Gintner. The vote reverses the board's most recent approach, which had called for Pontbriand's supervision of Doig through June 30, 2013.

Doig was not present for Tuesday night's meeting. Chairman Jim Fay started the discussion by stating that the process had run far afield from what he initially expected. Fay said while he agreed that Doig's job description needed to be revised, he did not agree with the Personnel Board's 2-1 Oct. 30 vote to jump Doig five pay grades above her current grade 7 post on the town's compensation grid.

"I grant you a position may grow over the years, but to go from assistant treasurer to GS 12 is way beyond the scope of what I thought," said Fay. Fay said he would send the matter back to the Personnel Board for reevaluation, but Chairwoman Kathleen O'Connor resigned, leaving just two members and a lack of legal quorum on what should be a five-member board.

Fay urged that a consultant be hired to perform a "desk audit" of all Town Hall jobs to see whether compensation is fair and appropriate. Furthermore, Fay opined that Doig's "reclassification request" was really "a new position, basically."

"To me, a reclass would be a minor upgrade with new tasks," said Fay. "While it may have been well-intended, it got a bit skewed in the process. To jump from assistant treasurer to payroll/benefits manager, it is a stretch."

Fay acknowledged that other employees may likewise ask "Hey, what about me?" in terms of reclassification, and so Fay said desk audits are needed "as part of a total cleansing."

"What you're saying is an employee of this town who went through the proper procedures -- through the Personnel Board and us -- is that you don't like the answer and so you want to go back and get the answer you want?" asked selectman Gary Luca, the sole selectman supporting Doig's reclassification request. "So we set the rules, the employee follows the rules and we say we don't like the rules?"

"I didn't say that," said Fay.

"I didn't say 'you," said Luca. "I said 'we.' Should the employee wait for all these desk audits? So section 5.4 of the Personnel Policy on reclassifications means squat?"

Fay said a member of the Personnel Board indicated they were not "adequately trained for the task ... On a five-member Personnel Board, that's not a thorough and fair review. Therefore, I say let's go get a second opinion from one who is."

In the heat of Fay and Luca's debate, Pontbriand appealed to the two to remain "fair."

While Luca stated that Doig followed the reclassification policy, Selectman Frank Maxant said that was "not necessarily true."

"Yes it is," answered Luca.

Maxant suggested that working for Ayer brings other benefits than pay. He cautioned against desk audits that increase pay across the board and challenged the notion that Ayer needs to pay its employees more.

"This business of saying we're lower than average -- well, we are," said Maxant. "To me that argument doesn't hold. It might hold for Weston, Lincoln, Harvard or Groton, but it doesn't hold for Ayer."

Selectman Christopher Hillman said "I think the new position is one the town needs but I have concerns." He wondered if Gintner would advertise to fill the assistant treasurer post if Doig were reclassified into her desired benefits/payroll manager position.

Hillman suggested a review of the compensation grid first. "I think that makes a lot of sense to get that done and perhaps revisit this."

Finance Committee member Brian Muldoon served on the Personnel Board and entered the singular vote against Doig's reclassification request. He called it "odd" that Doig attended board meetings accompanied by her lawyer and that she wanted a "huge jump" in pay. 

Muldoon said the board "discounted everything (Gintner) had to say" during its study of Doig's reclassification request, and instead deferred to Pontbriand's input. "Whenever the treasurer brought up something, it was just pushed aside."

In a Dec. 4 memo to the selectmen, the Finance Committee expressed it's "grave concerns" with the process the Personnel Board employed to consider Doig's request and suggested a newly-created payroll/benefits manager post must be presented to Town Meeting for approval and leaves the treasurer free to fill the $46,000 per year assistant treasurer post with benefits.

The Finance Committee also took issue with Personnel Board member Lisa White stating "the employee member of the board clearly lacked objectivity to review the process without bias."

The Finance Committee cited an Aug. 3 email to Nashoba Publishing from White in which White takes aim at Gintner, "Since she was voted into office, she has created a huge amount of controversy and has made it clear that she is not qualified for the position of treasurer ..."

O'Connor, but not Muldoon, was copied on White's email appeal to the newspaper. Muldoon noted that while the Personnel Board voted on Sept. 19 that Doig's request amounted to a new job and not a reclassification (2-1, with White dissenting). Muldoon questioned why O'Connor's vote flipped on Oct. 30 with no explanation given. After drafting a Dec. 4 advisory memo to the selectmen on the Oct. 30 vote, O'Connor abruptly resigned.

Muldoon said comparable towns studied had employees fulfilling similar duties in the pay range of a grade 5 to 9. "I don't know how we got a 12. It just boggles my mind," said Muldoon. "At some point you have to use common sense. In my opinion, we didn't do that."

Pontbriand advised that the $6,000 sum approved at fall Town Meeting is earmarked to hire a third-party firm to review the compensation grid -- not perform desk audits. "Not to say that can't be done," added Pontbriand.

Without a quorum on the Personnel Board, and without money in hand for desk audits, Pontbriand cautioned that waiting to reclassify Doig under those circumstances could take in excess of six months.

White approached the selectmen holding a large stack of documents she said were minutes of all the Personnel Board meetings and appealed to the board to make an informed decision based on the record. White added it's "not the employee's fault" that the compensation grid is out of whack. "I'm concerned about the message it sends to the other nonunion employees."

Selectman Pauline Conley suggested a three-minute portion of the videotaped Sept. 19 Personnel Board meeting be played for selectmen. As the tape rolled, Muldoon was heard stating "it looks like a new job."

O'Connor said she was "inclined to agree with Brian that it seems to be more of a new job than a reclassification." White disagreed and felt Doig's request was indeed a reclassification. All three agreed that data was "all over the place" in terms of finding comparable towns for a point of comparison with regard to pay, said White.

The videotaped portion continued, with Muldoon asking why Doig told the Personnel Board over the summer that only 10 percent of her job duties relate to the title of assistant treasurer. "Why do we fund that position full time?" asked Muldoon.

From off camera, Gintner could be heard agreeing that the assistant treasurer job description needed updating and that she'd cooperate in such a review.

After the video was switched off, Maxant said recording showed only debate, not a vote of the Personnel Board. Muldoon disagreed. "It was phrased as a 'vote.'"

Maxant suggested the selectmen take no action on Doig's request. No selectman would second that approach. "I think there's a different motion to make," suggested Conley.

"The very thing you're forgetting is she works for me, not for you," said Gintner. Gintner alleged selectmen made an "illegal motion" in executive session to switch daily oversight of Doig to Pontbriand months earlier.

"He has taken over more than just the day-to-day operations," said Gintner. "I have no say in what she does. She does what she wants, yet I pay her out of my budget, which I don't think is legal. The Department of Revenue may have something to say about that."

Gintner claimed selectmen had piled on duties to plump up Doig's profile. Luca challenged Gintner to name those duties. Gintner said there were many, including selectmen's choice to tap Doig as representative to the Minuteman Nashoba Health Group meetings.

"Which was a good choice," retorted Luca.

"And I'm not a good choice?" asked Gintner.

"In my opinion, no," answered Luca.

Fay made the motion that was approved by all but Luca -- disapproving of Doig's reclassification request. Audience member Maureen Parlon asked Conley to recuse herself for allegedly "coaching" Gintner on "what to say and what not to say." Conley didn't answer the charge and participated with the majority against the reclassification request.

Fay then immediately moved to return daily oversight of Doig to Gintner. By having Pontbriand supervise Doig, Fay said, "We have made (the situation) worse."

"This isn't going to solve it either," said Luca. Maxant disagreed.

"I think it's a good idea," said Maxant. "It puts the town government back to the way it was designed."

Maxant suggested the management reversal will cause "people" to "just suck it up and do what they know has to be done."

The vote to return Doig's supervision to Gintner passed on a 3-2 vote, with Luca and Hillman opposing the motion.