SHIRLEY -- During a joint budget session with the Finance Committee Monday night, Selectman David Swain called for Chief Administrative Officer David Berry to resign by Friday. He said Berry has been ineffective and the town could put the money he's paid to better use.
Asked who would do the job if Berry leaves, Swain posited that the selectmen's administrative assistant, Kathleen Rocco, could handle the CAO's duties -- many of which he said she already does -- while the board frames a new plan. Ending the scenario, a Town Meeting article to reconsider the position would determine how to fill it, as "town administrator, executive secretary, or whatever ..." Swain said.
Absent Berry's resignation, Swain said he wants the board to fire Berry. Selectman Kendra Dumont seconded the motion and voted with Swain. Chairman Andy Deveau cast the lone no vote on the three-member board.
After the meeting, Berry, who has been on the job for two years and has a legal contract with the town, told a reporter he could not comment yet. "This is the first I heard about this," he said.
Deveau reiterated comments he made during the meeting, that the move to oust the CAO was a mistake and the town could face litigation. Nor did he know it was coming. "I was blindsided," he said.
Bolt from the blue?
The discussion began with the $105,000 shortfall the town faces this year. The problem stems from Gov. Deval Patrick's pending "9C" budget cuts and promises
Based on assurances that the town would get $93,000 in MCI prison mitigation money, selectmen backed three separate requests for increased employee hours from the DPW, library and Council on Aging, respectively.
The board at first favored a Proposition 2 1/2 override contingency to fund the added hours, but abandoned that avenue at Town Meeting. Now, thanks to the governor's budget axe, there's no money to fund added hours for the DPW administrative assistant, library and COA directors, Finance Committee Vice Chairman Mike Swanton said.
The Finance Committee advised against doing so in the first place, arguing that it was fiscally imprudent. Now, the board advises rescinding the raises voters agreed to last fall. "We would propose that actions taken at Special Town Meeting be reversed," Swanton said, with $93,000 of the deficit drawn from stabilization funds, where the nascent MCI windfall was consigned.
That would leave a $10,000 to $15,000 deficit and the Finance Committee is asking selectmen to "revoke" the upped hours to close the gap.
Deveau asked Swanton if the other board had considered tapping the reserve fund instead.
Possible, but not "fiscally responsible," Swanton responded. Reserves are there for emergencies, and depleting that source could lead to trouble by fiscal year's end.
Deveau supported using stabilization funds, but not rescinding the added hours, stating he'd rather look elsewhere to balance the budget.
Swain said it's not enough, either way. "We're still not solving our structural debt issue," he said, and more creative "thinking outside the box" is needed.
For example, the town of Lancaster bought its streetlights from National Grid for less than the annual amount it has been paying to lease them.
Shirley, too, should explore new ways to generate revenue and/or draw from existing resources, he ventured, like the MCI account, a $10 million, one-time, state-funded nest egg that was depleted over the years.
There's still some money left, but it's tied up. "We have $70,000 or so in encumbered MCI funds" Swain said, and now would be the time to use it.
That money was earmarked for contractors' work on the middle school, but payment was withheld. Most of those companies defaulted on their obligations or have gone out of business, Swain said. He suggested releasing the funds. The exact amount is $62,800, according to town accountant Bobbi Jo Colburn, which she noted was enough to buy a police cruiser and then some.
But Swain wasn't done. Next, he targeted the CAO's position.
Although he favored re-writing the job description after the former town administrator was fired for cause, Berry hasn't met expectations, he said.
The new position was supposed to make things better, in part through grants and new revenue generation, he said. "But it's not happening."
Berry told the board he had grant writing experience, Swain said, but not a single grant has come to the town since he was hired. He also said he'd form a grant-writing committee, Swain continued, but that hasn't happened, either. He also said Berry claimed to be a state-certified purchasing agent ..." but that turned out to be untrue.
When Deveau questioned how this line of rhetoric pertained to the budget, which was the agenda item under discussion, Swain made a surprise motion, calling for Berry's resignation.
Deveau doubted it would be "legal," given Berry's contract.
"I can ask for his resignation at any time, Swain countered, "or move to dismiss (him) for just cause."
The motion was made, seconded and passed on a 2-1.
"If you want more money for the town" or to offset the deficit, reclaiming the CAO's salary, which is much higher than that of his predecessor, could help, Swain posited. "We need to ask Town Meeting to revise the job description" based on the town's true needs, he said. Asked for the Finance Committee's take on the matter, Swanton said the other board had no comment. It is the selectmen's purview, he said.
As for the three other positions the Finance Committee wants to rewind, Deveau asked if the Finance Committee thinks the matter should be addressed in this fiscal year or the next, within the context of its other recommendations and, presumably, if the CEO's salary isn't in the mix.
Swanton said that's up to the selectmen, too.