Selectman regrets investigation; board considers reimbursing town employees

“I wish this whole thing never happened,” Selectman Bill Boland said last night. He was referring to the 7-month long investigation of Southborough town employees that stemmed from comments made last September at an after-work gathering at Pizzeria Uno in Westborough. “I wish it went away. But I can’t do anything about that.”

Boland’s comments came as the Board of Selectmen discussed whether or not they should reimburse the employees involved for the $14K they incured in legal fees. The reimbursement request was officially made last night by Attorney Jack Merrill who represented then-Town Planner Vera Kolias and DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan during the investigation. He also made the request on behalf of Town Administrator Jean Kitchen and Assistant Town Administrator Vanessa Hale.

All of the employees were cleared of wrongdoing last month after the investigation Selectman John Rooney called “obviously thorough in length and comprehensive in scope.”

The Metrowest Daily News reported today that the investigation cost the town at least $13K.

Rooney, who was not a selectman at the time of the investigation, said he twice read through the 140-page report issued by the investigating lawyers. “At end of the day, what should have been handled differently became apparent,” he said. “We need to move forward and heal whatever wounds happened because of this investigation.”

Rooney agreed with Merrill’s argument that the employees should be reimbursed for legal fees they incurred, saying it was justified both under state statute (Chapter 258, Section 13 for those of you who are interested) and indemnity clauses in the employees’ contracts.

Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano disagreed, saying there was no legal basis for reimbursing the employees. He said the appropriation would need to be made by Town Meeting.

For his part, Boland said he wanted to figure out a way to reimburse the employees. “I lived this. I’m not happy I did live it, I’m not happy they lived it. I think we need to find a way to make people whole and make this right,” he said.

Boland and Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf both said they didn’t have enough information to make a decision last night and the discussion was tabled until June 29. Among the information they requested was more detail on the $14K in employee legal fees.

There was plenty of legal back-and-forth at last night’s meeting. You can read more about it in the Metrowest Daily News.

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Al Hamilton
13 years ago

The BOS appears to want detailed invoices. I think the invoices they receive should be heavily redacted. I suggest that they adopt the Cipriano standard of redaction. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

De M
13 years ago

Perhaps the Verizon settlement funds could be used here and we could move on from this ugly mess. That is, move on and learn from the mistakes that were made by all who were involved in this.

Al Hamilton
13 years ago

As reported the Statement by Mr. Cipriano to the effect that the reimbursement would require a vote of Town Meeting is not necessarily correct.

An appropriation by Town Meeting is one mechanism for reimbursing the employees. However, this would probably require them to wait until at least next spring and possibly next summer unless there is a move to hold a meeting in the fall. This could easily be perceived as dragging the affair out as a means of retribution.

There are at least 2 other mechanisms available:

1. A transfer from the Reserve Fund. This expense clearly meets the unanticipated expense standard. A request from the BOS and a vote of the Advisory Committee would be required. The monies could be made available in a matter of weeks.

2. It could be paid out of one of the 2 existing legal budgets either this year or next (July 1). There is some poetic justice there.

Lisa Matthew
13 years ago

@ De M, amen!

Pat Quill
13 years ago

May I suggest we put an end to the “eye for an eye” attitude. It may be satisfying, but really doesn’t do any good in the long run. Let’s make this right and let’s move on.

Sue Grinblatas
13 years ago

I agree that we have all been harmed by this debacle and that it’s best to move on. I have to say, though, that it is very difficult for me to swallow that I and my fellow taxpayers are really the ones who must foot the bill for the legal fees on both sides of this mess. That’s $27,000 ($14K for the wronged employees and $13K by counsel for town) for the gross errors of the Board members who launched this wrongheaded investigation in the first place. That irks me. A lot. And while we’re at it, how come Merrill’s bills need more detail but bills given to the town by its own counsel don’t require such detail. Just more foot dragging and nonsense by Town Counsel et al. Pay the legal bills, and let’s be done with, but not forget come next election and Town Meeting.

T P Stone
13 years ago

The Massachusetts General Laws have been cited as a means of paying a lawyer (MGL 258,Section 13). The law here applies “if the official at the time of such act or omission was acting within the scope of his official duties or employment.” To me, the law does not apply in this case.

Jim Hegarty
13 years ago
Reply to  T P Stone

T.P. Stone,

I respectfully disagree.

If the allegations were not related to the employee’s official duties or employment, I don’t see how the BOS could have compelled the employees to appear before BOS executive sessions and to submit to interviews by the special counsel. If the allegations were considered to be “private” actions, the BOS would not have had the right to investigate the allegations.

I am not making an argument that the BOS’ decisions were appropriate or inappropriate. I don’t know what they knew or when they knew it and I think its wrong to try to “Monday morning quarterback” the decisions made by all three Selectmen in 2009. Based on my own experience with the BOS over the past 6 years, I know the Selectmen, current and past, work incredibly hard on behalf of all of us in town. They probably work the equivalent of a second full time job. I have disagreed with some of their decisions, but I have great respect for their service on our behalf.

I believe we need to close this chapter and move on. If the BOS is unable to resolve this, it will be brought up at the next town meeting as a warrant article and and I think we would all be better off putting this episode behind us.

Pat Quill said it best: “Let’s make this right and let’s move on.”

Jim Hegarty

Sue Grinblatas
13 years ago
Reply to  Jim Hegarty

Spot on analysis. Thank you.

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