SWL: Selectman files files public record request on DPW layoff

According to Southborough Wicked Local, Selectman John Rooney is continuing to investigate the recent layoff of the Town’s Cemetery Supervisor.

At the last Board of Selectmen meeting, Rooney made it clear he was troubled by the communication and process. He also stated that he still hadn’t received related documents he requested. Since then, the selectman filed a public record request for the documents.

SWL reported:

“Mark, since I have not received the documents I requested, and in furtherance of creating a written policy to ensure that this scenario does not repeat itself … I am sending this more formal request for documents under the relevant Public Records Law,” Rooney wrote in an e-mail to Purple Thursday.

“I remain tremendously embarrassed and want to know how and why I learned of a town employee being laid off through an email from a resident on the weekend.” . . .

Rooney on Tuesday also presented a document calling into question whether town officials really didn’t know they intended to lay off Gilleney-DeCenzo until after Town Meeting, as they have claimed.

In his records request, Rooney asked for 12 different categories of documents, including all communications surrounding the fiscal 2015 DPW budget, all documents relating to the privatization of the cemetery for the past two years and all communications relating to any DPW layoffs since April 2012.

Rooney said his request was not a “witch hunt” or effort aimed at “pointing fingers.”

“Rather, this is a vehicle that should be welcomed by all so as to ensure that we are all on the same page and operating with the same set of facts,” he wrote.

Rooney said he intends to draft a policy to ensure that future selectmen are not left out of the informational loop. 

“Not only do I want to make every effort to guarantee that this does not happen to me in the future, I want to draft and present to (selectmen) a policy of open and transparent communication that will prevent this sort of thing from ever happening (again),” he wrote.

Rooney said he also wants a formal response from town attorneys who denied him access to Gilleney-DeCenzo’s personnel file.

“In order to fully understand the history, I need to review all relevant documents,” he wrote.

The “DPW budget as presented” is on the agenda for this Wednesday’s Advisory Committee meeting. That meeting is set for 7:30 pm in the Town House and scheduled to be televised.

Prior to Annual Town Meeting, the DPW budget was presented to Advisory. The budget included plans to outsource some cemetery labor. Committee members Karen Muggeridge and John Butler have both publicly expressed concerns that they may have been misled on the details.

The  next Board of Selectmen meeting is slated for June 3rd. The meeting and details aren’t posted yet, but expect this item to be on their agenda again.

To read the full SWL story, click here.

To read past coverage of the DPW layoff, click here.

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John Kendall
8 years ago

It’s nice to see someone who isn’t making excuses and is looking into things.

Resident
8 years ago
Reply to  John Kendall

Agreed. I hope all the newly-elected members will be supporting Mr. Rooney’s efforts to get to the bottom of what’s been going on at our DPW. Piecing together all the information contained in such a large selection of documents will be a herculean task.

We are very lucky to have John Rooney on our board. I very much wish that he would have accepted the nomination for chair.

Clean House!
8 years ago

It has come to a Public Record Request?? Another embarrassing headline for Southborough. Enough of this cronyism in Mayberry. CLEAN HOUSE Mr Rooney!

Rob
8 years ago
Reply to  Clean House!

We tried at elections, and no one showed up… remember? Actions speak louder than words.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago

Is anyone else embarrassed about this?

It would appear that a Selectman needs to make a public records request to try and get to the bottom of this issue. Clearly, the BOS could have voted and asked for the same information, and more, but did not.

There was a lot of talk about transparency during the last election. Apparently those pretty words had a half life shorter than Hydrogen-7 (23X10^-23 seconds).

Paul Cimino
8 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

Mr. Hamilton,

As a matter of practical sanity, I doubt that I will comment on this blog every time the record needs correction of some sort (Lord knows that that situation will arise far too often, despite the best intentions of Beth’s commenters). But in this case, since it is not clear to whom your sarcasm above is directed, I can only assume that you have not read the entire MWDN piece, especially this part:

“Newly elected Selectman Paul Cimino said Friday that he found it unfortunate Rooney would be placed in the position where he found it necessary to file a public records request in order to get access to important information.
“I support Selectman Rooney’s intentions here one thousand percent,” Cimino said. “Openness and equality of information among all selectmen is of the utmost importance.””

In other words, yes, I also found it completely embarrassing, which I conveyed to MWDN on Friday last week. In any case, Mr. Rooney has at least one ally in the quest for facts. Hopefully there will be others, and I have to believe there will be.

Paul Cimino

John Kendall
8 years ago
Reply to  Paul Cimino

Thank you for stepping up Paul. Now we have two KNOWN good guys!

Kathryn Marous
8 years ago

Without commenting on the procedure leading to the layoff of the cemetery supervisor, I just wanted to comment on what a wonderful person and presence this supervisor is. I no longer Iive in town, but have a family member in the cemetery and the supervisor’s kindness and calming presence helped me heal during a difficult time. I am so sad to know that she is not there, as it always gave me comfort to know she was looking over the souls in that beautiful cemetery. She is so much more to Rural Cemetery and Southborough than the person maintaining the grounds.

Resident 2
8 years ago

Was a public records request really necessary? I do hope that Mr. Rooney tried to get the information in a more discrete manner before going down this highly public and political route. Is the relationship between the BOS and Mr. Purple already so bad that they can’t just request the documents informally with the public request? I find it just bizarre that the BOS and Mr. Purple do not have an adequate working relationship.

southsider
8 years ago
Reply to  Resident 2

I hope you receive a response to this question.

Just Curious
8 years ago
Reply to  Resident 2

Resident 2,

It is indeed very sad when a Selectman has to legally compel a town employee to produce public records buy what other choice did he have but to ensure Mr. Purple is open and honest in this matter?

As for Mr. Boland, this sad situation caused me to reflect on the Pizzagate/Mary debacle of a few years ago. Mr. Boland was present at the Uno event that started the whole mess and he voted to use our tax money to try to compel the Blog owner to identify Marty. In fact, it was HIS presence at the table when disparaging remarks were made about then Police Chief candidate Jane Moran that created most of the controversy.

It is too bad that Mr. Boland did not learn from his mistakes in that dark chapter in our town’s history and he is once again at the center of a huge controversy. I will not vote for Mr. Boland if he seeks re-election next year.

I am pleased to read Mr. Cimino’s candid posting. As one of his first as a Selectman, Mr. Cimino has done the right thing.

Let us hope that Mr. Kolenda will also do the right thing and say whether he knew the budget included a planned layoff.

southsider
8 years ago
Reply to  Just Curious

If a BofS member needs legalities to insure that Mr. Purple is “open and honest” with him, then the working relationship has failed miserably.
That would be a rather bad turn of events for the Town.

I still think we need to know if Mr. Rooney was ‘forced’ to this very public approach to information gathering.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago
Reply to  Resident 2

An individual Selectman has little if any formal authority. Authority is vested in the Board. The way the Board exercises its authority is by voting on specific items or voting on a policy. My understanding (which could be wrong) is that the Board did not vote to investigate this matter. That vote would have pretty much compelled the TA to provide the information.

So, the alternative left to an individual Selectman to “get to the bottom of the matter” is the same alternative available to any citizen, a public records request. That request will require that the TA produce the required documents (with certain exceptions like personnel records) within 10 days.

Of more interest is the authority vested in the Advisory Committee. Under town by law they have very broad authority to investigate management practices of the town.

“The Advisory Committee shall have authority at any time to investigate the books, accounts and management of any department of the Town, and the books and accounts of all departments and officers of the Town shall be open to inspection of the Committee and of any person employed by it.” Section 9-13-D Code of the Town of Southborough.

The Advisory Committee, however, does not have the authority to make policy. Its only authority is found in the “Bully Pulpit” of a report to Town Meeting.

John boiardi
8 years ago

I can’t believe the big “to do” about the layoff of a town employee. Does the DPW head have the authority to reduce staff? If she does then what’s the issue? Does the DPW have a budget? Is she authorized to manage her budget. I realize that the employee was a valued employee. Does this issue mean that once employed by the town ( or government) that you have a guaranteed job for life? Does that mean that all budgetary decisions end up with the BofS after the budgets are allocated? Have there ever been layoffs in the public sectors? Have there ever been layoffs in the private sector? I hope the economy doesn’t turn down requiring more layoffs.

Tim Martel
8 years ago
Reply to  John boiardi

John, I think the issue is about how it was done as much as what was done.

John boiardi
8 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel

Tim,

How do you feel it should have been done?

Tim Martel
8 years ago
Reply to  John boiardi

Given our bylaws and our BOS policies, it is appropriate for the DPW head to keep operational matters at the level of “department head / town admin”. But strategic plans and budgets should remain fully within the direct oversight of the BOS. Layoffs are not regular events, and should never be glossed over as if they were just another annual operation. This is a case where the DPW head should have presented options/recommendations to the BOS and allowed them to make the choice.

The DPW head should have presented a detailed strategic plan (not just a budget) for this department to the BOS (and ideally Advisory, and talking to the Personnel board could have made sense) including a clear statement that a position was being eliminated as part of the outsourcing model being proposed. Having been clear that this was a case of a position being eliminated (i.e. not a personnel issue), she should have then presented options and her recommendation for the impacted employee – whether to transfer to another position in the DPW, or maybe a transfer to a position elsewhere in town govt, or to layoff (and if to layoff, the process, timeframe, and compensation).

With this information, the BOS could have made clear decisions on: 1) if they wanted to outsource cemetery maintenance, 2) if so, whether the elimination of the position in question was appropriate, 3) if so, what solution to adopt for the impacted employee, 4) if a layoff, their level of involvement in the messaging/process.

My sense is that the BOS needs to better communicate the intention of their “administration policy” to the town admin and department heads, who in this case chose an interpretation that inappropriately took the power of choice away from our elected leaders.

John Butler
8 years ago
Reply to  John boiardi

John,
In one sense you are right. If it had been handled correctly, it should not be an issue. But, there were so many egregious errors.

Town Meeting was told, in writing, that the budget would be handled with retirements, while, shortly before, the union was told in writing that a layoff was likely. No one from Town Hall arose to tell Town Meeting it had the wrong information, that Town Hall had itself provided. Almost immediately after Town Meeting, the employee was told that due to the budget voted by Town Meeting, she was being laid off. Management could have taken the responsibility for the layoff, as you suggest, instead of trying to pass blame off to a Town Meeting that was left in the dark by that very management. There has been a “possible retirement that did not occur” floated as a justification for discrepancy, but why Town Meeting could not have been given the same information as the union is hard to fathom. Some Town Meeting attendees feel manipulated and deceived by this sequence of events. Furthermore, the name of the employee was omitted from budget details submitted in February, suggesting that the real plan had been in place for months. So, some people feel lied to. I among them.

On top of that, there is no evidence yet, although some could emerge, that this 25 year employee was offered or urged to take other open positions over a reasonable period of time. Given her longevity with the Town, that would be a minimum standard of decency.

Lastly some people feel that the position of Cemetery Supervisor, and the sensitivity which the individual has displayed toward the bereaved, warrants their having some voice in this, even though the legal responsibility for hiring and firing rests solely with the DPW chief. At a minimum, had there been an honest and forthright discussion of the topic of the budget that was used to justify the action, instead of this apparent subterfuge, those feelings would have been able to be heard before we got into this mess.

There are, no doubt, some facts, perhaps important ones, yet to emerge, (Selectman Rooney is in pursuit) but that is the outline of how a layoff, handled very badly, becomes a big “to do” as you put it.

I will add, on an entirely different topic, that there are those who claim that readers here are confused about whether I am writing for myself or the Advisory Committee. Once again, I assure readers that I write only my own opinions.

Desiree Aselbekian
8 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

Mr. Butler, I agree with many of your comments. I do, however, want to point out one area I think you are over reaching. In Chapter 447 of the Legislative Acts of 1991 (a home rule petition enacted through town election and the Legislature), you will find the DPW superintendent does not have the “legal responsibility for hiring and firing solely” as you suggest. Instead, it is clear in reading the Chapter the DPW superintendent has the right to hire and fire with CONSENT of the Board of Selectmen.

This brings the discussion full circle in that we have two selectmen who have stated publicly they were in the know about this layoff for months, and another who claims he found out via a resident communication after town meeting. This is the main issue of why so many residents are upset and rightfully so. If the DPW superintendent needed consent from the BOS, when was there a vote?

We all live in the real world where layoffs occur in the private and public sector. However, when you have a plan to reorganize the structure of the DPW and you keep it a secret from the very people who approve the budget (TM voters) and a finance committee that is responsible for reviewing said budget, you can see how people would feel deceived and manipulated.

The fact is, tax payers in this town have the right to know where their money is being allocated. We also have the right to decide the level of service we want out of those tax dollars. It is my belief and others that if Town Meeting was aware of this “reorganization plan” for the DPW, we would have made a decision on TM floor as to whether we agreed or disagreed with such action. Again, what services do we want from our government? That is the central question. Personally, if I knew of this plan, I would have had no problem making an amendment to the budget to include the appropriation of money to keep this position. It would have then been up to TM as to whether or not they agreed with me. My feeling, based on the outcry and support for the Cemetery supervisor position, is TM would have made said amendment and demanded the appropriation of those funds for FY15.

These deceptive practices are very problematic for this town, and makes people question the type of leadership we have in this town. Before making a plan to “reorganize” the DPW, shouldn’t the DPW superintendent, Town Administrator, and/or the Board of Selectmen had input from citizens about the level and quality of service they expect out of the DPW. We received a survey last year or so regarding the Transfer Station. We have also received surveys in the past regarding the Senior Center and the services it provides. Yet, the DPW Planning Committee, while only advisory in nature, has not met in over 2 years. Perhaps this planning committee could have assisted the DPW superintendent and Selectmen in getting a pulse on the community as to what level of services we value from this town. Just a thought.

Personally, my mother and I purchased 2 plots in the new cemetery this past December to the tune of $1800. Plus, we will each have to pay upwards of $500 for burial and $250 or so for perpetual care when buried. That’s alot of money considering other towns deed/lease plots to residents for free. I chose Southborough as my finally resting place because I am a townie, I plan on living her for many more years, my family is all buried here, and our cemetery is one of the most lovely in the area. It’s beautiful because it is well maintained and cared for. If this situation does not get resolved, I might just ask for my money back!

Betsy Rosenbloom
8 years ago

Ms. Aselbekian would appear to be correct. According to Chapter 447 “An Act Establishing A Department of Public Works in the Town of Southborough,” the “board of selectmen shall appoint a superintendent of public works …the superintendent shall appoint and remove such employees as he deems necessary, subject to appropriation and the approval of said board.” See http://archives.lib.state.ma.us/actsResolves/1991/1991acts0447.pdf. I am baffled as to why this has become so complicated. If this law is still on the books, BoS approval of this layoff was required. If we take Mr. Rooney at his word, and I see no reason not to, he was not consulted and has been forced to launch a formal investigation into a matter that was wholly within his jurisdiction as a Selectman.

Al Hamilton
8 years ago

Betsy

You could argue that when the BOS approved the budget request they approve the staffing plan (I am not defending the action but suggesting that the approval requirement might have been met.)

Mr. Rooney however is conducting an informal investigation. His authorities are no different than any citizens. A formal investigation would require the Board to act and it is my understanding that they have not acted. Only the Board has the authority of the BOS.

John Boiardi
8 years ago
Reply to  John Butler

There is no easy way to lay off an employee.
In future budget negotiations/discussions, the possibility of layoffs should be openly reviewed by appropriate supervisors, boards and/or committees.

John Kendall
8 years ago
Reply to  John Boiardi

There’s been a lot of discussion regarding the “layoff”, and how things are dones. Some are calling for transparency, which is an oft used word that nobody seems to pay attention to anymore. How about everyone go back to the good ol’ days…..be UPFRONT and HONEST.

Betsy Rosenbloom
8 years ago
Reply to  John Kendall

Thank you Mr. Kendall. I asked in my post why this has to be so complicated. Mr. Rooney says he didn’t know about the layoff decision (which the law apparently requires him to approve) until after it was made. To my mind, that means he didn’t approve it. Further, Mr. Rooney’s letter to the Town Administrator says he didn’t get the documents he requested so he is taking the “more formal” step of filing a document request under the Public Records law. To my mind, an “informal request” would be asking the Town Administrator for the documents. When a Selectman has to take the extraordinary step of filing a request under the Public Records law, I would call that “formal.” But my question is why is all this necessary? I think Mr. Kendall has the answer. Every candidate promises transparency but few live up to the promise while in office.

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