AYER - On Thursday night, the Ayer selectmen voted 3-2 to deny Ayer Town Treasurer Stephanie Gintner's appeal of the board's July 23 censure.
The board censured Gintner based on complaints made by Assistant Treasurer Melisa Doig and Town Accountant Lisa Gabree. Doig alleged Gintner accessed Doig's town-issued computer and deleted 15 emails from Doig's town-issued email account while Doig vacationed in Aug. 2011. Gabree provided Gintner the password to Doig's Munis software program, which Doig had set to match her email account.
Gintner has denied deleting emails from Doig's account. Gintner's attorney Rebecca Pontikes noted that the town's email policy warns an employee that they should have no expectation of privacy with town
Gintner has sought access to Doig's email account to conduct forensic analysis for evidence that may exonerate her. The town has denied Gintner's request.
Despite the lack of direct evidence of wrongdoing, the selectmen majority censured Gintner based strictly on circumstantial evidence. The censure is more symbolic, as the selectmen have no direct power over the separately elected Treasurer.
Pontikes said blocking access to Doig's computer denies Gintner "access to information that could have exonerated her" and could provide evidence to the selectmen that "may change their mind about this censure." A review of the computer could show that someone else remotely
Pontikes took exception to selectmen Gary Luca calling Gintner a "hacker." The term, along with the censure vote, unfairly implies that Gintner broke the law, said Pontikes.
"She received voluntarily a password to use that computer to submit payroll records," said Pontikes. "That's not the same as hacking."
Pontikes noted that the Doig/Gabree complaint wasn't handled according to the town's personnel policy. Pontikes said such complaints are supposed to be aired before the Personnel Board, and not the high-profile Board of Selectmen where the complaint "became more public. It was really an inter-personal dispute."
Gintner, who had served in Doig's position before Doig was hired in 1998, states that then and now, she'd strived to have a good relationship with everyone in town hall. Gintner said she regretted the current state of affairs with Doig which has broken down into "false public accusations."
"It has been portrayed in the media and everywhere else that this board is out to get this treasurer," said selectman Gary Luca. Though he denied that's the case, Luca then moved to deny Gintner's censure appeal.
"Are there any new facts that have been presented since the censure was made that exonerates your client?" asked selectman Christopher Hillman.
"That's part of our point," said Pontikes. "She'd like the opportunity to gather evidence that she thinks will exonerate her." Hillman seconded Luca's motion to deny Gintner's appeal.
Selectman Frank Maxant suggested there is a political undercurrent at play between the board and the treasurer. "I'm pretty sure I'm sensing it accurately I don't see any proof that our treasurer deleted any email."
Selectman Pauline Conley said it's "not a fact" that email was deleted by Gintner. "It's a perception of a probability. This board is retaliating for whatever reason, I don't know. I think there are individuals retaliating for whatever reason I don't know."
"I agree," said Hillman. Hillman didn't expand on the statement.
"That's all we seem to have time to do since April," said Conley. As they opposed the censure vote in July, Conley and Maxant opposed Luca's motion to deny Gintner's appeal.
Chair Jim Fay said he felt a "fiduciary responsibility" in rebuking the Treasurer. "We sought findings of fact through legal counsel and found them. We sent - I'll call it a warning shot across the bow. That is what the censure amounts to."
"I mentioned the word hacking," admitted Luca. "It was a poor statement on my part. It wasn't hacking because the treasurer was provided with the password. It was a poor choice of words on my part.
In a related matter, Gintner filed suit against the selectmen on Sept. 13 in Middlesex Superior Court. On Aug. 14, state Supervisor of Records Shawn Williams ordered the selectmen to provide Gintner access to Doig's email account which they have refused to do.
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