Letter: Selectmen respond to concerns over cemetery supervisor layoff (Updated)

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.

The below letter from the Board of Selectmen was submitted yesterday afternoon.]

To the Editor:

The Board of Selectmen has received correspondence from several current and former residents regarding the layoff of the Cemetery Supervisor as of July 1, 2014. I want to thank those that did reach out to their elected officials to offer their thoughts and concerns. I have responded to as many of those personally as I could. I acknowledge and appreciate the amount of passion that people have on this issue, and I share in your desire for a speedy resolution.

This year, Town Meeting supported a Fiscal Year 2015 budget that included a reorganization in Public Works and privatized the maintenance of the cemetery grounds. This was presented by the Public Works Superintendent to make the operation more efficient and to save money, which is something that I encourage and expect from all of our department heads each and every year. During the budget process, it was presented that while there was a possibility of a layoff in DPW, at the same time, two long-time DPW employees had retired, and a third expressed an interest in the same. Thus, the potential for a reorganization without a layoff existed, based on that third retirement which we were informed could take place before June 30th.

Despite our best intentions, things did not work out as contemplated. Know, however, that the Town has been working with the DPW Union and town leadership over the past two weeks to try and find a way to avoid the layoff. I full support these efforts. We are continuing that dialogue, and I am proud to say that good progress has been made. It is my hope that we can retain all of our current employees while preserving the efficiencies of the department as voted by Town Meeting. I have put this issue on [Tuesday, May 13th’s] Board of Selectmen meeting agenda so our new Board can all discuss. I firmly believe that when dealing with matters as personal as our cemetery, that has now affected a long-standing and valued employee, every effort should be made to ensure that our cemetery operations are of the highest quality with the right personnel. A layoff should be our last option, and an option I believe we can avoid.

Finally, every resident should know that we support and trust in our professional staff who have worked tirelessly to bring this matter to resolution. We are fortunate to have so many dedicated town employees who want nothing more than for our town to prosper and thrive, and I am grateful for their continued service.

Daniel L. Kolenda

Chairman, Board of Selectmen

Updated (5/13/14 12:42 pm): Mr. Kolenda’s reference to “tomorrow’s” meeting was written yesterday. I inserted the correct date above.

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Desiree Aselbekian
9 years ago

I will take this time and forum to clarify and correct some of the statements in this letter to the editor. I do not want citizens and voters who perhaps did not attend Town Meeting to be fooled by what actually happened. Nor do I want residents to miss critical meetings coming up relative to this issue:

1) Relative to Town Meeting vote:
“This was presented by the Public Works Superintendent to make the operation more efficient and to save money, which is something that I encourage and expect from all of our department heads each and every year. ”

This statement is very misleading. Town Meeting was never presented this information during any of the budget debate on the floor. While there was a one sentence snippet at the very end of the Warrant, there was never any verbal discussion by the Superintendent of DPW or the BOS in terms of the “new way of streamlining” budgets. In fact, there were many questions regarding line items and what exactly the money was going toward. Town Meeting voters had no idea this was part of the plan, period.

While the DPW budget was not “held” and specifically questioned, there should be a complete dialogue regarding what impacts a “level funded” budget has on personnel and level of services. If even a potential of a layoff was considered, the voters at Town Meeting should have been given the information to decide how the potential layoff and change of Town services effects them. I can almost guarantee, based on the folks I have spoken with and those who have signed a citizens petition, that if a layoff was discussed and on the table, they would have made an amendment to include the continued level of service at the cemetery beginning with Ms. Gilliney-DeCenzo’s current position and her full duties.

2) Time and date of BOS meeting regarding this issue is TODAY not tomorrow. Clearly this letter was submitted yesterday. The BOS meeting is tonight at 7:00pm at the Town House in the McAuliffe Hearing Room. The topic is on the agenda under other business #2.

There is one statement made in this letter that I am 100% in agreement with, “…every effort should be made to ensure that our cemetery operations are of the highest quality with the right personnel.” The goal of every single person I have spoken with is to restore the Cemetery operation to exactly how they have been operating for the past 25 years. This is one area of the budget people value. Privatizing the compassion, empathy, and humanity that is displayed every day at our Cemetery by our beloved Cemetery Supervisor does not make this Town’s “operation more efficient”. The small cost savings (if there really is any) certainly does not outweigh the level of services this town wants and expects relative to the cemetery.

Please join me at the BOS meeting tonight to stand with our Cemetery Supervisor and make the BOS and DPW accountable for their deceptive behavior to the public about what their plan was relative to the cemetery. All these people/leaders had to do was be honest about the reorganization plan at Town Meeting. At that point, Town Meeting, fully informed, could have decided if this funding and the level of service was warranted.

Honesty is the best policy! When leaders are not honest and do not provide an opportunity for people to have dialogue, there becomes chaos, discontentment, and anger. I am hoping the new 5 member BOS takes into account the lack of discussion and secrecy surrounding this issue and does the right thing to restore the level of service this town wants at our cemetery.

Thank you,
Desiree Aselbekian

Beth Melo
9 years ago

Thank you for pointing out my oversight in correcting the date. The letter was submitted yesterday afternoon. I’ll fix that.

9 years ago

I’m glad to see there is progress with this unfortunate situation. The BOS can trust the staff as much as they want, but what happens when bad decisions are made?

The Public Works Superintendent has been reckless with this year’s budget. I understand the need to save money and I fully support it also, but why make a division of the public works, the cemetery, that has no financial issues suffer? The big financial burden for the public works is the transfer station. The new BOS really needs to look into an alternative to the transfer station rather than continue to dump money into that dinosaur. In my view, one person has been laid off because to save money to run our extremely out of date transfer station. That’s unacceptable.

One other thing that I still do not understand is the Supervisors position was no longer needed. Then who will pick up the slack? Someone has to over see the daily operations of the cemetery. So technically, that position is still there.

9 years ago

I’ve attended twenty or more Town Meetings and I don’t recall ever hearing the name of someone whose position was being eliminated because of budget pressures. I wonder if we’re about to move to a slippery slope here? When do the names get revealed? When the employee has worked for 20 years? 10 years? or has been kind to some TM attendees? If 10, why not 5? If someone in the public eye, why not someone less well-known?
I wasn’t thrilled about this situation either but I think it can be resolved with a little less rancor and fewer accusations.
I’d like to thank Dan Kolenda for his letter.

Donna McDaniel
9 years ago
Reply to  southsider

Regarding information about positions being eliminated, I’m not sure this particular scenario has happened before… people have retired or a position eliminated or combined with another but in a town this size, outside of the schools there aren’t a whole lot of employees.
Without consulting my town report I’d say the DPW has the larger number of employees (combining water, highway, tree, and cemetery). The transition from the separate departments was handled carefully in respect to the employee’s ranking. The police and fire departments have their ranks and promotions within. Have people left public safety departments in search of a higher position offered elsewhere, I expect so, but through their choice not because their job was eliminated.
My point being I think I’d be hard pressed to find similar incidents. In my many years both covering the boards as a reporter and being a selectman, I’d say that the reason you and all of us haven’t heard of a similar situation is because there hasn’t been one. That’s another factor that makes this incident stand out in such contrast.

In fact, I think a major reason for the great upset in this case is just that — -we are not accustomed to doing things this way.

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