No decision on whether to reimburse legal fees for town employees

The Board of Selectmen again last night considered whether to reimburse $14K in legal fees incurred by town employees as part of the so-called Southborough Eight investigation. While two selectmen — Bill Boland and John Rooney — said they were strongly in favor of doing so, the board ultimately deferred its decision.

“I’m in favor of reimbursement. Mr. Boland is in favor of reimbursement,” Rooney said. “The only question is the vehicle.”

At issue is the mechanism for reimbursing the employees should the town decide to do so. Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano said the claim may be covered under the town’s insurance policy. The board decided to look into that possibility before making a final decision on the reimbursement.

If insurance doesn’t cover it, the only other option for paying the legal tab would be an appropriation at the next town meeting, meaning voters would have the final say.

Former Selectman Sal Giorlandino — who chaired the board during the Southborough Eight investigation — attended last night’s meeting and read a five-page statement justifying the investigation and arguing against reimbursing the employees.

“Originally, I had not planned to become involved in the debate regarding whether the BOS should approve this $14,000.00 reimbursement request,” Giorlandino said. “Unfortunately, I have been drawn into this debate because in their June 1 letter, (Town Administrator Jean Kitchen) and (Assistant Town Administrator Vanessa Hale) made highly charged and unfounded allegations against me.”

In their letter, Kitchen and Hale said that at the October 22 executive session during which employees first found out there would be an investigation, Giorlandino’s tone toward the employees was “demeaning and accusatory.”

“It was obvious that some employees were being targeted,” they wrote.

Kitchen and Hale further alleged that Giorlandino’s treatment of employees at the meeting and the subsequent investigation “resulted in a great deal of emotional distress and a hostile work environment.”

“Simply stated, Ms. Kitchen’s and Ms. Hale’s allegations are not true,” Giorlandino said last night.

Southborough resident Irene Tibert also spoke out against reimbursing the employees. “I feel very strongly that we should not pay these bills. The employees have to held accountable,” Tibert told selectmen. “Don’t be hostage to this situation. Just because they were exonerated does not change a damn thing.”

The board is expected to revisit the reimbursement question at their meeting on July 13 after they hear back from the insurance company.

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Read This
12 years ago

This is not about whether the investigation was justified (though it clearly was not). This is not about whether antagonism existed between Sal and others in the Town House, or who caused it. This is about whether four employees that were ultimately exonerated should be reimbursed for the expense of defending themselves against allegations that couldn’t stick. I say yes, of course.

Relatedly, Ms. Tibert’s suggestion that they now be “held accountable” seems to completely ignore that there has already been a 7-month effort to do just that.

I sincerely hope we can find a way to reimburse these people, and finally close the book on this whole embarassing tale!

RT

No, Read This. . .
12 years ago
Reply to  Read This

Wrong!

These four were not “exonerated” they were “let off the hook.” If you read the 24-page executive summary of the investigation, nowhere does it state that these four were found innocent of the allegations. It says that their behavior was in violation of our town’s professional conduct policy and that minimal disciplinary action was appropriate. It is clearly documented that they apologized to Chief Moran for their behavior which in and of itself is an admission of wrongdoing. These four should be glad that they still have jobs, and if they can’t “get past it” then they can use the door to the Town House for the last time. It could have been over in April if they had finally seen fit to begin acting like adults, taken responsibility for their immature and unprofessional behavior by paying their own legal bills, and moved on. THEY are the ones dragging this out, they and their attorney, no one else. I only wish the bills were higher so that they might be more clearly reminded to act like adult professionals in the future.

Ms. Tibert is right; when are we going to stop being held hostage by these people? She is also right that residents and other town employees feel too threatened by this situation to speak out against reimbursement. Here’s an interesting observation. You would think that, in a situation like this, the room would be filled with other town employees, ready to speak out on behalf of their fellow co-workers. You would think that, but you would be wrong. Not a single person stood up last night to speak on their behalf. What does that tell you?

As for the justification for the investigation, read Mr. Giolandino’s letter. It surprised me. I had no idea that the employees in question were offered the option of mediation which THEY REFUSED!!! The investigation took place as a direct result of their own actions and instead of mediation which was offered to them.

These four need to be reminded that the taxpayers make the decisions in this town not its employees. The BOS need to do the job they were elected to do BY THE TAXPAYERS and stop catering to these people.

Read This
12 years ago

Oh my. Just three things to say in response to the above —

1. Your point that the report “says that their behavior was in violation of our town’s professional conduct policy and that minimal disciplinary action was appropriate” doesn’t actually support your conclusion but just the opposite. If our BOS can’t figure out how to handle events requiring “minimal” discipline without a full scale investigation, that’s a direct void of leadership by them. There was no need for a 7 month charade to correct whatever occurred. The entire issue should have been put to bed in a matter of DAYS, not weeks, let alone months. “It could have been over in April” you say? How about it could have been over last October.

2. You really think that the “other” Town employees that have not been involved in any of this since the beginning, and have watched this firestorm rage around them for the past 10 months, are suddenly going to show up at the Town House last night and insert themselves into this? You don’t really think that, do you? That’s just silly.

3. Oh yes, and a letter by the former Selectman whose only objective is to justify (bad) decisions is a dubious basis on which to rely.

RT

Al Hamilton
12 years ago

Mediation is the equivalent of a plea bargain. If you believed you were innocent you might decline to bargain as well. It is completely inappropriate to use the fact that they insisted on their due process rights as evidence of guilt. The process was the process that was chosen by the BOS and was in my opinion excessive and heavy handed.

Also, the taxpayers do not make decisions and they do not elect the BOS or any other official. The registered voters, all of whom are town residents, elect the BOS. There are many taxpayers in town that are either not registered or not entitled to register.

Pat Quill
12 years ago

MWDN article today (front page of local section) reports that Town employees are saying that it was actually Chief Moran who declined mediation. What are we to
believe?

This is one small example of why it will be very difficult, I think, to bring this
to Town Meeting. We regular folk seem to be privy only to hearsay, “he said, she said” comments and redacted documents. How on earth can we make a truly
educated decision? There seems to be a heck of a lot of negative history wrapped
up in these relationships and events in question. I certainly do not have enough information to make a decision that I could feel good about.

Karen Muggeridge
12 years ago
Reply to  Pat Quill

What and why would have been the reason for Chief Moran to agree to mediate anything in this particular mess? I think her distancing herself from the whole dog and pony show was the best thing she could have done!

Al Hamilton
12 years ago

I agree that the employees should be reimbursed. Had there been a different process in place or a different set of facts I might not feel this way.

There are at least 4 different ways the Selectmen could reimburse the employees without the necessity of asking for a specific appropriation from Town Meeting which would probably require the employees to wait a long time for reimbursement.

1. A Transfer from Reserve Fund – I believe this meets the standard of an unexpected expense. This requires the approval of the Advisory Committee.

2. Use of the Seletmen’s End of Year budget Authority. In the last 3 months of the year the Selectmen have the authority to move modest sums (up to $5k) from any budget under their control which might not expend all the money appropriated. (Eg the Police Dept appears to have the money to hire a consultant to assess a promotion). If they can find the required sums they can be pooled into an account (eg legal budget) and used to settle this matter.

3. Use monies donated to the town.

4. Pay it out of either the 2010 or 2011 legal budget.

So where were you?
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Al, you always seem to have “Monday morning quarterback” contributions to make through this blog. If you had substantive information to contribute why didn’t you attend the BOS meeting and put it out there for town counsel, the BOS and members of the general public to hear and consider?

You seem to know so much more than everybody else, and apparently have time on your hands. I wonder why you consistently choose this forum to proffer your wisdom instead of a sanctioned forum where it could do the town some good. Is that not the precise purpose of open meetings; for people and ideas to be brought to one place and considered together in an accessible forum?

Al Hamilton
12 years ago

I served on 2 different financial boards in town for 10 years and have attended 100’s of meetings. Frankly I got tired of devoting 1 to 6 nights a month to meetings which, in my opinion, failed repeatedly to address some of the critical issues facing our community.

The idea that some how the only proper forum for discussing public matters is an open meeting held under the gavel of the BOS, or any other government board, is troubling in my opinion. Frankly, I find this forum far more open, accessible and interesting that sitting through another meeting.

This blog is the new face of the fourth estate. You are not the first to suggest that I take my ideas through “proper channels”. With all due respect, I believe that this is a very proper channel. Debate and discussion about how we govern ourselves is far too important to be left to the halls of government where it will inevitably be stifled. That is why the founders wrote the first amendment.

Pat Quill
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Perfectly said Al. This is, by all means, a proper and quite accessible channel
to debate and discuss town issues. This is a perfect place “for the general public to hear and consider” opinions. Just because someone
has regular contributions to make to the discussion doesn’t mean they “apparently have time on their hands” nor should they stop posting and
instead attend meetings. Participation in any form should be applauded……especially when you attach your name to it.

Deb Moore
12 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

If I read a person’s comments and use their information and opinions, along with other sources, to inform my own opinions, they have used an appropriate channel.
If that person posts only here and only complains that the BoS doesn’t listen to them, they have used an inappropriate channel.
If I disagree with them, that doesn’t define the appropriateness of the channel.

John Butler
12 years ago

I had the same views as Al about this, but regarding the source of funds I have been told that the Town House had contacted someone at the Dept of Revenue and had been advised that such a payment would be outside the appropriation scope of any existing appropriation language. The opinion seems peculiar to me, but if it was given would mean that, if the techniques Al suggests were used, there might be a risk of a citizen’s challenge succeeding. This risk, unless a different opinion can be solidified, is what would suggest a Town Meeting process to address the issue.

As for the other views expressed in the article and comments here, they highlight the fact that in democracies people disagree. That is why we have elections. If the people had wanted the prior approach to continue, they could have reelected the incumbent. The voters, as is suggested, do make the decisions, and decided there should be a change. This new policy is indicative of the change that they voted for. Although some may still disagree, their complaint can hardly be that voters are being ignored.

Al Hamilton
12 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

I fear this is a clear violation of the “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” rule.

The “ruling” is a bit odd. It implies that there is no department under the control of the BOS from which a settlement payment could be made. I think we both agree that the BOS has very broad authority over how the funds allocated to a budget item are spent provided the purpose of the expenditure is within the 4 corners of the function of the Budget. Special Legal would seem to be within this scope.

Unless the BOS can find a non appropriated source of funds to settle this matter it sounds like it will be placed before Town meeting either as a warrant article to pay the employees or a citizens petition protesting the payment.

Mary Hynes
12 years ago

Dear “No Read This”, Actually, one of the four did “use the door to the Town House for the last time” and we lost an incredibly valuable, thoroughly professional, highly-respected Town Planner who conducted herself in her position with grace and intelligence, along with winning several awards and accolades by both regional and statewide planning organizations. And now we are in the position of the Planning and Personnel Board members’ having to devote countless ADDITIONAL evening and weekend hours of volunteer time (beyond our various Planning Board duties and meetings) to replace her. This doesn’t count the financial “hit” that the taxpayers are paying while Town staff divert their attention from their regular jobs to assist us in this recruitment effort, as well as paying for advertising costs, etc. Please be aware that losing employees has a serious cost to it — in numerous ways — and shouldn’t be viewed cavalierly! As far as I’m concerned, employees out for a social occasion should not face personnel discipline for a few casual remarks, and, thus, should not be made to feel that they must hire a lawyer to protect their rights, unless some egregious act has occurred. That is not the case here. They should be reimbursed. I haven’t written much before about this, although I have had strong feelings, but felt I had to respond to “No Read This”.

southsider
12 years ago

I do not support reimbursement for these department heads.
I think they obtained counsel earlier than necessary and it’s easy to suppose that the simple fact that they introduced one or more attorneys to this process caused it to take as long as it did and cost the town as much as it did.
They selected the early attorney approach with no presupposition of reimbursement.

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