Breaking news: Town employees cleared of all wrongdoing

by susan on May 6, 2010

UnoGate is officially over.

At an executive session on Wednesday night that lasted more than four hours, selectmen discussed the investigation of town department heads over comments made at an after-work gathering at Pizzeria Uno last fall. In a statement issued after the executive session, the Board of Selectmen  said the investigation concluded there was no wrongdoing on the part of the town employees, and no disciplinary action would be taken.

The statement issued by the selectmen also revealed that the Southborough Eight was actually the Southborough Four. According to the statement, the employees under investigation were Town Administrator Jean Kitchen, Assistant Town Administrator Vanessa Hale, former Town Planner Vera Kolias, and DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan.

“Contrary to reports, Carla McAuliffe, Brian Ballantine, Fire Chief John Mauro, and Doreen Ferguson were only among the witnesses and were never the subject of the investigation,” the statement read.

With the exception of Brian Ballantine, all of the named employees attended the executive session, many with their lawyers in tow. Police Chief Jane Moran — the reported subject of the comments made at Pizzeria Uno on the night in question — also attended the session.

Before selectmen entered the executive session, Town Administrator Jean Kitchen made an impassioned request to keep the session open to the public to help “clear the air.” She also asked for a written statement clearing her record, and for an apology.

Kitchen said the work environment within the town had become “hostile and intimidating” as a result of the investigation. “An apology would go a long way to re-establishing trust,” she said.

In their statement selectmen also addressed rumors that Kolias, who resigned as town planner last month, left as a result of the investigation. “Any idea that Ms. Kolias was asked to leave her position as Town Planner is completely false,” the statement read. “The Board of Selectmen had absolutely nothing to do with Ms. Kolias’s resignation. It knew her as an outstanding and dedicated employee who left her position solely on her own initiative to make a positive career move.”

At a joint meeting of the Planning Board and Personnel Board earlier in the evening, Kolias said the investigation did play a role in her departure. “I would not have applied for the job I got if this hadn’t happened,” she said. “The right job came along at, unfortunately, the right time.”

You can read the entire statement by the Board of Selectmen here (PDF). An executive summary of the investigative report is expected to be released sometime on Thursday.

1 Harold Raez May 6, 2010 at 6:21 AM

This is an outrage.

For all of you who have been defending the bos by saying “there has to be something justifying this crusade,” which many of us hoped against hope, you could not have been more wrong. Vera left because of this. In my opinion and I know I am not alone, the bos is not honest. They refused to open the meeting and tried to think of a way to justify it. They cruelly kept top employees under investigation since October. The employees had to all get lawyers. Since October the investigation went on and then the bos issues a grammar school statement that they were morally and legally required to do this. No one who does this has any morals that I share. And, Mr. Giorlandino, Mr. Rooney did not ask me to do this. I do not even know the man. Maybe you were effective on the Zoning Appeals Board where leadership was not required. Whatever you learned doing Zoning means nothing. You do not represent me or anything I believe in.

The entire bos needs to go and go now. I would like to start a petition for a special town meeting to call for their immediate resignation and replacement. Can someone please tell me how to do this?

2 Pat Quill May 6, 2010 at 8:51 AM

A Special Town meeting, I believe, would cost the town quite a bit of money.
I had put the question out there in the past to see if we could put a stop to the money going out to pay for attorneys for these “investigations” and I believe
Al H. commented that it costs quite a bit of money to hold a town meeting.
Don’t know if that is a good use of our funds at this time.

3 Al Hamilton May 6, 2010 at 9:40 AM

There are 2 issues here.

1. Recall – I do not believe this is an available option. Southborough does not have a formal Charter so we operate under state rules and I do not think there is an option for recall. I could be wrong about this.

2. Special Town Meeting – It takes somewhere between 100 and 200 signatures. A special town meeting could. Apologize to the employees, censure the BOS, vote funds to reimburse the employees for reasonable legal costs, or take other actions that was identified on the petition for a special town meeting. I do not think Town Meeting can remove a sitting elected official

I believe that the cost of a special town meeting is on the order of $10k

4 dirty diaper May 6, 2010 at 12:56 PM

10 grand….probably the same amount as the “investigation”

5 Wow May 6, 2010 at 7:35 AM

That’s it ??? After almost 8 months ??? Good grief, what a lack of judgment and leadership by this BOS. And after Jean Kitchen’s statements, there can no longer be any question that the only thing this process leaves behind is vast disrespect and distrust between the BOS and the Town’s employees. Southborough deserves better than this.

6 Deb Moore May 6, 2010 at 7:59 AM

I would respectfully point out to the BoS that not asking someone to leave and not being involved in their decision to leave are two different things, and one should not assume the second because the first is true. An environment of intimidation that might prevent people from choosing to serve in town government has in recent past been of concern to the BoS. (No, I have never met Mr Rooney, either.)

7 Emily May 6, 2010 at 8:27 AM

I’d like to thank Susan for staying on top of this and giving a complete account. I wouldn’t have this much detailed information otherwise.

8 Correction May 6, 2010 at 8:41 AM

To Harold and to Wow,
First of all, you’re the one calling this a “crusade;” sensible people who were “defending” the BOS were actually not saying this was a “crusade,” they were simply saying that it was an objective outside-the-BOS investigation, which was a responsible thing to do in light of an official complaint being filed with them. And further, sensible people were not “hoping” for any particular outcome. Many of them in fact stated that if something improper was found, then action should be taken, and that if nothing improper was found, then it should end there. It appears that the latter was the determination of the investigation, so that’s it. That is in opposition to people like you, who were “hoping against hope” for a particular outcome (i.e., having an agenda).

9 Wow May 6, 2010 at 9:36 AM

Ummm…what?

“Correction”, I didn’t invent the outcome of all this. It speaks for itself, unfortunately. The loss to the Town is tremendous — money, time, trust, productivity, employee dignity, etc. Those are just facts that Sal’s supporters would like us all to forget.

Not to mention the impact the next time a Town Department needs to hire someone to come here (including a replacement for Vera Kolias, whose departure is DIRECTLY related to this action).

As for my agenda — I do have one. It’s what’s best for Southborough. If that means a vote for John Rooney (and it does) I am proud to cast it.

10 dirty diaper May 6, 2010 at 9:50 AM

believe what you want….. but rest assured, if it smells like a dirty diaper it usually is. time to change the diaper!

11 Former Townie May 6, 2010 at 11:14 AM

Can someone explain to me how this meeting of the Uno 8 came to the attention of the BOS in the first place? I might have missed this crucial piece of information, haven’t read all the postings.

12 Former Townie May 6, 2010 at 11:48 AM

What I mean is how did the BOS find out exactly what they had been talking about. I assume it came from someone who was at the after hours”meeting”. Did they relate it to someone and then they got the BOS involved?

13 John Kendall May 6, 2010 at 11:55 AM

Another employee overheard the comments at UNO, and reported then to the BOS

14 Your guess as good as ours... May 6, 2010 at 12:20 PM

The BOS heard a rumor that somebody may have said something untoward about Police Chief Moran. They never knew exactly what might have been said or who might have said it. They were afraid that whatever might have been said might be a very bad thing indeed, and they were morally obligated to make sure that the person who might have said it was brought to book for saying whatever might have been said.

So the BOS spent 8 months and who-knows-how-much money (seriously, no one knows how much money) trying to determine who might have said something that would have been a bad thing to say, only to find out that nobody said anything worth all that trouble. Which is what the people who were there said from the beginning.

Next up: somebody might be voting without due consideration for all pertinent issues. Martial law declared.

15 Townie May 6, 2010 at 11:22 AM

They all went to UNO’s, had a few drinks, and realized they’re not in middle school. So now that its over, what was the final bill for an investigation that led to absolutly nothing??? I side with Harold, the BOS needs to stand down, or be taken down. Thank you for making our town the laugh stock of Massachusttes…..

16 Al Hamilton May 6, 2010 at 1:02 PM

From the BOS statement:

The Board of Selectmen had absolutely nothing to do with Ms. Kolias’s resignation. It knew her as an outstanding and dedicated employee who left her position solely on her own initiative to make a positive career move.

From the MetroWest Daily News:

Kolias attended last night’s joint meeting and was asked by Morreale if the investigation had contributed to her decision to resign.

“I would not have applied for the job I got if this hadn’t happened,” Kolias said.

17 southsider May 6, 2010 at 1:52 PM

If I recall the facts, an fellow town employee reported to the BoS that something was said in this gathering about Moran. There was no rumor. The report clearly convinced the BoS that they had an obligation to follow-up. To remain impartial, they brought in outside attorneys ( probably their biggest mistake – they could have forwarded their concerns to the town’s Personnel Board for handling ) and tried to show the potentially aggrieved party that they took the matter seriously and had a sense of urgency about it by convening their meeting so quickly. From several perspectives, this could be seen as the proper response. After too long a time ( unfortunate but to be expected with so many attorneys involved ) the research resulted in a dismissal of the complaint. Maybe the ‘accused’s’ attorneys could have counseled them to save their money until the investigation was concluded and the town actually took some job action against them. I’d suggest that everything would have moved along at a much faster pace.
Although I understand the frustration and dissatisfaction with the outcome, I suggest the ‘blame’ is misplaced. I’d suggest that the original complainer probably needed to bring a bit more forethought to the table before coming forward and reporting the incident.
Until this morning’s paper, I was unaware that there was a sitting, functioning Personnel Board that could have handled this HR matter. Considering all the publicity of this entire unpleasant affair, they have remained remarkably silent. Finally, this morning we get to read comments from other town officials. Maybe some questions about where they’ve been throughout these many months is also in order.
And, finally, to those wrongfully accused, I am glad you have all been publicy cleared. I think your accuser owes you an apology.

18 Michael Moore May 6, 2010 at 3:43 PM

Hi Southsider,

I can’t agree with your suggestion that we should blame someone other than the BOS for the way in which this was handled. Those who were accused certainly can’t be faulted for retaining counsel in a hostile environment, regardless of how inconvenient it was to the rest of us. The accuser (though I don’t think that there’s enough evidence to call them that… my understanding is that they didn’t actually accuse any particular person of any specific action) may be guilty of raising a non-issue, but if we have to withhold all information from the board until we’re sure that a firestorm is required, they’ll be even more out of touch than they are right now.

Perhaps the Personnel Board could be faulted for not getting involved, but since the BOS rushed this situation into an antagonistic executive session, followed close upon by an investigation, I don’t see how the Personnel Board had opportunity to fulfill their function.

No, if this was mismanaged (and it seems clear at this point that it was), the fault lies squarely with the BOS. It is their responsibility to oversee the running of the town, and even if this hadn’t been their charge, they took ownership of the issue by launching the investigation.

I understand the desire to speak up on their behalf, especially when one of their number is being demonized days before an election. But we shouldn’t quibble about this: the BOS messed up. They wasted money, time and the good will of town employees. If we can’t accept this fact and learn from it, we may find ourselves reliving this little drama.

19 Jane Smith May 6, 2010 at 3:39 PM

I, too, want to commend Susan for doing an excellent job reporting on this fiasco. My heart goes out to the 4 women who have been “under investigation” since last fall. This crisis could have been averted so easily and they most certainly deserve a public apology.

20 Steve Morreale May 6, 2010 at 10:31 PM

As Chair of the Southborough Personnel Board, having read a few comments about the Personnel Board and the lack of involvement in this matter, I thought it might be helpful to provide some information about the Board itself, as well as what and when we knew about the recent “internal affairs investigation” in Town.

The Personnel Board is an appointed body of 5 town residents (appointed by the Town Moderator). The Board is charged with the oversight of the Town’s Salary Administration Plan (SAP), which is the guiding policy for all employees in Town that are not covered by a separate contract or Collective Bargaining Agreement. Most of our members have professional backgrounds in Human Resources and/or Personnel Training and Administration.

Most of the Southborough department heads and their unit employees are governed by the SAP and come before the Personnel Board at least annually for the evaluation of performance and consideration of pay raises, based on performance. At other times, department heads come to the Personnel Board to discuss personnel matters, behavior and performance issues, and to seek guidance and independent views on how to handle such matters. A Board member also typically participates on major selection committees for new hires, including the fire chief, town administrator, assistant town administrator, town planner, building inspector, town engineer, and facilities manager, to name a few. We also play a role in collective bargaining negotiations, review and write policies and job descriptions, review the evaluation of employees, and manage the Town’s tuition reimbursement program. Finally, we plan and conduct annual professional development training for SAP employees, including department heads.

In short, there is substantial experience on the Personnel Board but, in regards to this present matter; the BOS chose to handle it as a legal issue rather than a management issue. As a result of the secrecy in which the BOS conducted its internal investigation, the Personnel Board was never advised about the incident and, in fact, only learned of the investigation on the night of Town Meeting, and then only by happenstance because two Personnel Board members were in attendance at a Planning Board meeting held earlier that evening. The Personnel Board members were helping the Planning Board to prepare for the search effort for a new Town Planner. However, the BOS chose to proceed with its investigation, we have no doubt that it could have and should have begun by holding individual discussions with the involved employees to sort out the details.

After Town Meeting, the Planning Board (which, like the BOS, is an elected Board) asked for a joint meeting with the Personnel Board to discuss the issues and their concerns over the way their employee (the Town Planner) was being treated. A meeting for May 5, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. was posted, and the agenda included the following:

“New Business
o Meet with Planning Board representatives
o Discuss recent internal investigation of Planning Board staff [Town Planner] and certain employees under the Salary Administration Plan
o Potential effect on productivity, morale, and municipal resources
o Improving communication mechanisms amongst and between Town officials, boards and employees”

At this meeting, held yesterday evening, the Planning Board appeared and expressed significant upset about the lack of professional respect shown to them by the BOS regarding the investigation of the Planning Board’s employee. Initial written correspondence from the Planning Board to the BOS was totally ignored. Only after the Planning Board’s third letter in three months did they get a response, and not from the BOS directly but from an attorney. According to members of the Planning Board, the correspondence was demeaning, threatening and unprofessional, and provided no information. Planning Board members characterized the correspondence as sending a message to “mind your own business.” The Planning Board complained that they were not told about the investigation of their employee, the Town Planner, a person that they hired, conducted performance appraisals with, and had the authority to fire. They were upset at the treatment of the Town Planner and the effect on the conduct of town business. The Personnel and Planning Boards expressed concern over the lack of communication and mutual respect from the BOS.

The former Town Planner appeared at the meeting as well. I posed a question to her and reminded her that she did not have to answer and could decline. Ms. Kolias said she would answer. According to the MWDN:

[Kolias attended last night’s joint meeting and was asked by Morreale if the investigation had contributed to her decision to resign. “I would not have applied for the job I got if this hadn’t happened,” Kolias said.]

I can assure you that the Personnel Board conducts its business in the open, with transparency, with an eye towards fairness, and with discretion.

At the BOS meeting last night, some members of both the Personnel Board and Planning Board waited for more than 4 hours, while the BOS held its Executive Session, and were there when the session was opened up at the end for the BOS’s attorney to read the statement that the lawyers had agreed upon. The meeting was adjourned with no questions allowed.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and attempt to better understand this issue in greater detail.

Steve Morreale

Dr. Stephen A. Morreale
Chair/Southborough Personnel Board

21 Michael Moore May 7, 2010 at 9:22 AM

Thank you, Mr. Morreale, for taking the time to set this down. I believe it may be the most candid and informative communication on this matter that I have seen.

22 Michael Moore May 7, 2010 at 9:22 AM

Excuse me, Dr. Morreale.

23 Frustrated resident May 7, 2010 at 1:41 AM

I just read this quote from Vera in the MetroWest Daily News: “”I would not have applied for the (new) job I got if this hadn’t happened,” Kolias said. “I would not have gone out and gotten a waitressing job.””

How can the BOS look themselves in the mirror when they approved of the statement released by Attorney Lample that includes this statement: allow a self-serving sanctimonious statement that includes this statement “The Board of Selectmen had absolutely nothing to do with Ms. Kolias’s resignation.”

I hope Fox 25 doesn’t pick up on this when they come to town tomorrow morning.
I’m embarrassed for all of us in town.

THANK YOU to Evan Lips from the Metro West Daily News and Susan Fitzgerald from mysouthborough.com for reporting on this issue. Without their pursuit of the truth, I really wonder if these 8 terrific employees would still be left in the dark.

Am I the only one who wonders if this ordeal is magically over just a few days before the election. Coincidence?

24 Confused May 7, 2010 at 1:38 PM

It is my understanding that Ms. Kolias has worked waitressing for years – way before any of this controversy began. I am confused by her statement.

25 Harold Raez May 7, 2010 at 5:58 AM

From the article in today’s MWDN, two of the town’s employees spent $15,000 defending themselves on a matte that concerned social chat and ended up much ado about nothing. If you estimate that as $7500 per investigated employee, then our town employees spent approximately $60,000 on this half a year witch hunt trying to keep an unpopular chief happy. With all of the attorneys the town hired in that same period of time, is it possible that the entire pizza bill approaches 6 figures? That is an expensive dinner tab, that no one ever knew about until the planning board had a hearing and only had the hearing because the bos ignored multiple requests. Add to that cost the amount of inefficient work time caused by this investigation that should not have been, and the cost to the town and the town employees is staggering. All for what? Couldn’t that money have been used for the library, schools, board of health, or any thing that is helpful to the town?

26 first time blogger May 7, 2010 at 7:33 AM

To all Southborough voters:

When a general manager of a sports team knows he has bad chemistry in the clubhouse, he knows he can’t trade all of his players to correct the problem. Sometimes he just has to fire the coach.

The Uno Gate investigation has clearly left bad chemistry between 8 dedicated workers and the BOS. The duration of the investigation, which started last September, is completely unreasonable. To have 8 employees concerned about their employment status for that length of time, in this economy, when they knew that they had done nothing wrong, is not right. For the sake of the 8, who have been exonerated in this investigation, and before the remaining 7 leave their positions as Ms. Kolias did, change must be made. We the voters need make a statement and show support to the 8.

On May 10, the voters need to play the part of the general manager, and we have to use our ballot to fire the coach. For the good of our Town, change must be made.

27 Harold Raez May 7, 2010 at 10:29 AM

Frustrated Resident,

Your point is well made, and in addition to that clear effort to mislead, we also have them saying it did not involve the chief. But, we know the chief was at the executive session, and in today’s MWDN, employees are quoted as saying that the whole mess involved the chief. Also, what explanation do they offer for ignoring the planning board’s letters and then having a lawyer (that the residents all paid for) send a nasty response to the planning board? How can the bos just ignore two letters from another elected board and think they can get away with it? How can they not involve the personnel board when this matter is one of the reasons the personnel board exists? They act like a group who think that only they know what is right and only they know how things should be handled. It is a shame and embarrasment.

Dr. Moreale, Thank you for your information. What a new and refreshing thing to hear direct information from someone with authority and knowledge.

28 mike fuce May 7, 2010 at 10:42 AM

I agree with Deb Moore. I thought to myself, what an awful environment to work in. Who would want to work in town government unless you are a control freak and have your fingers in everyones business. BOS all lawyered up against the town employees? They had to get their own lawyers. This calls for tort reform. You sue some, investigate a person, and you loose, you pay the persons fees. The only people who have won in this is paranoid politicians and lawyers. I had a question??? Why is it I see Sal Giorlandano’s signs on all the seniors, long time reisdents, and what I know to be registered Democrats lawns in town? Wouldn’t the Dems, long time residents and seniors more associate with the folks that work at town positions and be upset with Giorlandonos waste of money in this investigation that really again only helped line lawyers pockers again?

29 Mary Hynes May 7, 2010 at 11:41 AM

To be as precise and fair as possible regarding the BoS, the above comment that “we also have them saying it did not involve the chief” is inaccurate. The BoS statement only discussed her not being the source who provided information, stating, “It should be further noted that Police Chief Jane Moran was not the source of the complaints or matters that were reviewed which led to this situation.”

Nevertheless, the entire situation is regrettable, and continues to raise the concern of many residents.

30 southsider May 7, 2010 at 2:09 PM

During the course of this entire event, I have tried to remain open-minded; to see possible explanations in the actions of the principals involved. Many of us can sympathize with the manager who is forced by policy to act in a certain way and to maintain confidentiality in the face of mis-understanding colleagues demanding answers. I have felt a certain sympathy for those hard-working BoS members who were regularly being ‘demonized’ ( a tip of the hat to Mr. Moore for his accurate characterization of some comments ). After all, I thought, they’re contributing huge amounts of their time to the town and certainly never anticipated such stress and vilification. How can such well-meaning individuals be so off-base in their handling of this situation?
Now, after reading the comments from Dr. Morreale and some of the other principals in this case I find I can no longer conceive of any set of circumstances that can justify the BoS actions during this entire affair.
To come down so hard on long time department heads without even telling the Personnel Board seems unimaginable to me. Ignoring the Planning Board is simply disrespectful of people who, just like the BoS, work very hard on their own time for the good of the town. I’ve never understood why these department heads felt obligated to seek counsel, especially if nothing happened but now conclude that the entire sequence of actions prompted them to feel so obligated. I’d imagine that there may have even been comments suggesting they obtain counsel…… just a veiled threat,if you ask me. Nothing about this seemed to be handled properly.
And now, days after the resolution, we still get no real info from our BoS members despite our clamoring for it. It’s all just too much for this commentator. I can no longer imagine any plausibe scenario for our BoS’s actions.
Bill, Bonnie ….an apology along with a promise to do things differently in the future is in order.
Sal, for you, although I also think an apology is in order; I’m afraid there will be little need for you to promise to do things differently as an elected member of the BoS next time.

31 Harold Raez May 7, 2010 at 2:33 PM

Thank you Ms. Hynes. I was not correct.

32 Buzz May 7, 2010 at 4:27 PM

Mr. Raez;

This is just another one of those comments from people like you who don’t even know half of the story but continue to talk anyway. Why didn’t Dr. Moreale say that one of the people who was under investigation is the secretary to the Personnel Board. I am sure it was common knowledge to the Board. Do you think that is why the BOS didn’t tell the Personnel Board . How could they investigate if one of their own was involved. Say what /// Buzz

33 Al Hamilton May 7, 2010 at 6:37 PM

Gee, Why did the Planning Board know that their employee was under a cloud but the Personnel Board did not know there was an investigation. Please be serious about the Secretary thing. The person does not even work for the Personnel Board.

By the way, it appears that both the Personnel Board and the Planning board have stated that they were treated disrespectfully and had their authority questioned. I think I remember that the Board of Selectmen passed a policy that said that everybody was supposed to be treated in a professional and positive fashion and the Lawyers report cited questioning of authority as a serious potential offense.

It appears to me that there is at least enough evidence of policy violation to justify a full investigation of the Board of Selectmen. These transgressions appear at least as serious as the ones that justified a 6 month five figure investigation that yielded nothing. Seriously Buzz. If you think the investigation of the 8 was appropriate shouldn’t the BOS be investigated for what appear to be breaches of the policy at least as serious as the ones the 8 were accused of?

We do need to be consistent don’t we? What is good for the Goose is good for the Gander.

34 Buzz May 7, 2010 at 8:45 PM

Mr. Hamilton:

If the devil came here and critizied the BOS you would be hailing him as a hero too. All I am saying is that one of the people investigated was the Secretary to the Personnel Board. They vote on her salary because she is under the Salary Admin. Plan. how could the Personnel Board investigate her/ But you are very cunning with words but also very deceptive. I would think most people that write on this blog are people who are relatively new to town. why don’t you run for Selectman again you would probably lose again. And I will say again if Mr. Rooney wins you wil be attacking him as you have so many other people. You are not much of an asset to this town. as much as you think you are Buzz

35 ConcernedSouthboroughite May 8, 2010 at 7:56 AM

You can find the below post in the readers blog by “Sex in Southborough” in conjunction with a MWDN article on May 7, 2010. Very interesting post and assertion. . .

http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/top_stories/x1773729503/Southborough-workers-have-spent-15-000-on-defense

36 Town Elder May 8, 2010 at 12:41 PM

This is the committee being praised — I am speechless.

37 Round up May 8, 2010 at 12:46 PM

Steve Morreale: good post

Buzz: calm down. Putting your anger issues on display isn’t helping your credibility.

ConcernedSouthboroughite: Okay, that’s just weird. This story is drifting rapidly into the surreal. I’m trying to think of a way that we’re not featured on “the Daily Show” in the next three months, and I’m failing

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