BOS Chair addresses alleged Recreation theft, defends Town’s handling

by beth on January 7, 2021

Board of Selectmen Chair Marty Healey publicly defended the Town’s handling of accusations against an employee in 2019. His defense clarified some details around the incident.

The issue was raised during Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting. Healey noted that he felt free to speak on the incident since it occurred prior to his term. (He and Selectmen Sam Stivers were elected one week after the second Executive Session the board held about the incident.)

Healey opined that the “process” worked as it should. According to him, an audit identified employee misconduct.

The Town’s documents released in November and December both indicate that the issue was actually discovered by the Town Accountant not an external audit. (Although, that may have been through an internal audit of the department’s finances.) The report of the external audit of the Recreation Department completed in July 2019 indicates the auditors were engaged in reaction to the employee theft.

As for the Town’s actions once the issue was raised, Healey said officials took the appropriate steps. According to the Chair, the Town worked to identify all of the money misappropriated. When the employee attempted to resign, Healey said the Board of Selectmen” did not allow that to happen”. Instead, they terminated the employment.*

Healey also said officials acted to ensure the Town “was made whole”, by having any money reimbursed. (The allegation revealed in documents is that the former Recreation Program Coordinator misused a town credit card to make personal purchases. Over $800 in expenses were identified, an amount the employee paid back by check.)

As for pursuing criminal charges, Healey said the Town referred the case to the District Attorney’s office. The DA apparently decided that the case couldn’t be prosecuted because the Town was reimbursed. Healey called that decision absurd. Referring to his work as a federal prosecutor, he said he couldn’t comprehend the reasoning.

After justifying the Town’s actions, Healey addressed the transparency issue around public records and redacted documents. He acknowledged that “maybe” the Town was “too considerate” in its steps to protect the identity and status of the accused.

No other board members or personnel commented during Healey’s update. Later, Town Moderator Paul Cimino offered his thoughts during public comment. Cimino said that the Town may have had justification for considering the documents exempt from public records Open Meeting Laws. But he opined the release of documents so heavily redacted “really was not defensible”. He said his personal reaction when he viewed them was to questioned the legal advice the Town received.

The matter was raised under the Town Administrator’s report on the related public records requests.** TA Mark Purple informed selectmen that the Town had released all of the requested unredacted documents. He mentioned the police report and financial statements. 

Purple appeared to have been referring to documents released prior to my December 29th post. In that article, I noted that resident Jack Barron intended to file to receive more documents, including unredacted minutes from the Board’s Executive Sessions on the matter that spring. 

Currently, the posted versions of those April 25th and May 7th minutes are still almost entirely redacted. Unredacting and releasing them was not on this week’s agenda. The minutes weren’t referenced in the meeting.

(Again, all of the incidents from 2019 pre-dated the hiring of Recreation’s current Director and Program Coordinator that summer.)

In a marginally related matter. . . 

Earlier in Tuesday night’s meeting, Healey updated the Board on a Worcester Superior Court hearing on a lawsuit against the Town in which Barron is one of the three plaintiffs. (Healey mentioned a complaint over a December 18 meeting. He was referring to the BOS Meeting on December 4, 2018.)

Healey and Stivers both zoomed into the January 4th hearing on a Motion to Dismiss. Healey noted that the plaintiffs voluntarily dropped some of the charges already. He assured that the lawyer representing selectmen and the Town did a good job. (That’s attorney John Davis.) He noted that judge took arguments under advisement. As of today, the case is still listed as pending with no future calls or hearings scheduled.

*In my prior post, I noted that the police report indicated the employee resigned. I also pointed out that a prior article by local media quoted the Town’s attorney as confirming the employee was fired. Healey’s recap seems to account for the discrepancy.

**The subject “Public Records Requests, RE: Recreation” was included on the agenda. Starting with the Board’s December 15th agenda, predetermined topics under board members’ and the TA’s reports have been itemized. In the packet for the December 15th meeting an opinion from the Mass Attorney General’s office about Open Meeting Law violations by the Sandisfield Board of Selectmen. The highlighted section referred to a finding that if officials know in advance that they plan to discuss specific topics under their reports or updates, they must include them on the agenda.

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