In November, I covered a Southborough resident’s is appeal of an “excessively redacted” response to a public records request. Thanks to a ruling by the state’s public records division this month, unredacted police reports and payment request records were recently released.
The police report confirms that in Spring 2019 a then-Recreation Department staff member was accused of using a Town credit card to make personal purchases. The report also indicates that the Town accepted a check for either full or partial repayment from the employee. Due to that action no criminal charges can be pursued.
Attorney Ginny Kremer has been seeking public records on the rumored incident on behalf of resident Jack Barron. In a December 17th letter, a state Records Supervisor ruled in Barron’s favor. The Southborough Police Department and Town Administrator’s office were ordered to respond to the request within 10 days. Documents were subsequently released to Kremer.
In November, Kremer had appealed the Town’s redaction of records, arguing that exemptions to public records law weren’t valid. Kremer argued the redactions:
made it impossible for Town residents to determine (1) how much money, in total was stolen or misappropriated; (2) whether the $800 that the former employee remitted to the town was a full reimbursement of the allegedly stolen funds; and (3) whether the employee was discharged for deliberate misconduct, or was simply asked to leave the towns employee with no further repercussions, leaving the employee eligible to complete claim unemployment benefits
The recent communications don’t answer all of his questions. The state’s determination letters didn’t address a prior request from Barron for unredacted minutes from Board of Selectmen Executive Sessions and some other internal communications. Barron has been seeking them to better understand the incident and how the Town handled it.
This fall, the Town’s attorney Antoine Fares defended heavily redacted minutes, police reports, and accounting records. The December 17th letter from a state Public Records Supervisor referred to documents related to the latter two. It informed Fares that he hadn’t sufficiently clarified how the situation justified exempting materials related to the alleged theft.
Backed by the new determination, Kremer will be filing a revised request for Barron. They’ll seek unredacted BOS minutes and other documents related to the Recreation Department’s finances.
Barron told me that he is still concerned about why the Town swept the incident under the rug. He asserted the public had a right to know about any malfeasance by Town employees and wonders what other details we’re still being kept in the dark about.
According to a witness statement in the police report, in April 2019 the Town Accountant discovered apparently inappropriate use of the Town credit card. She reached out to Recreation Director Doreen Ferguson. After the employee defended the purchases as made for work, Ferguson went through two years of statements. She examined purchases that didn’t coincide with program dates and assessed $844.88 worth. The former employee made out a check for that amount and resigned.
Previously Fares purportedly confirmed for a December 23rd article run in MWDN, The Telegram, and Wicked Local that the employee was fired:
The town’s attorney for the case, Antoine Fares of Norwood-based Norris, Murray & Peloquin LLC, confirmed that a Southborough employee was fired, but that he couldn’t respond to allegations made by Barron and Kremer.
“I can’t comment on any personnel matter,” he said. “Any(thing) related to a disciplinary matter, I can’t comment on.”
The same reporter covered the latest development on Monday evening:
A Recreation Department employee resigned in April 2019 after admitting to spending hundreds of town dollars on personal expenses, according to a police report only recently made public.
The report, written by Southborough police Detective Keith Nichols, outlines accusations that then-Recreation Department [Facilities and Program Coordinator] used a town Sam’s Club credit card to buy personal items from stores in Northborough, Hudson and Framingham between 2016 and 2019. . .
“According to (the town accountant’s) calculations, she estimates that [the employee] had spent approximately one thousand dollars ($1,000) in unauthorized purchases between May 2016 and April 2019,” Nichols wrote. . .
The town accountant reported the suspected theft to police on April 26, 2019, a week after [the employee] admitted to the theft, wrote a check for $845 and resigned. . .
According to the police report, Nichols spoke to the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, where an assistant district attorney is credited with saying Southborough cannot bring criminal charges against [the employee], because the town already accepted partial restitution. . .
Barron said he is still waiting on answers, and thinks there is more to the story than theft by a single employee.
“We’ll have to chase them for that,” he said Monday.
As I reported in November, an Audit was solicited following the incident. The report highlights the failures in the Town’s process that allowed the inappropriate reimbursements to go through. Recommendations were made to avoid future incidents. The allegations all relate to incidents in Spring 2019 and prior, predating the current Recreation Director and program coordinator.
Barron is one of three residents who is currently suing the Town and the Board of Selectmen over an unrelated incident.