As I previously shared, a resident has been seeking information on the Town’s handling of an alleged theft by a Southborough Recreation employee in 2019. More details are now available to the public.
In past responses to records requests, the Town released minutes from Executive Sessions and other documents that were almost entirely redacted. Based on directives from the Mass Public Records office that the information shouldn’t be shielded, the Town released a batch of requested unredacted documents in December. Tuesday night in an Executive Session, the Board of Selectmen voted on releasing the minutes. They were posted yesterday afternoon.
Here are highlights from what the minutes reveal about the BOS Executive Sessions in spring 2019.
[Editor’s Note: It’s worth noting that the majority of Recreation staff and selectmen have left since the meetings took place.*]
The April 25, 2019 Executive Session focused on the discovery of alleged improper used of a town issued credit card by the Program Coordinator for the Recreation Department. Prior to the meeting, the employee confessed to the improper use and submitted a check to reimburse the funds.
Minutes show that the Board of Selectmen learned that the reimbursement check was submitted before the Town Accountant could could ascertain the total was correct. The amount was based on a total assessed by the Recreation Director. Selectman Bonnie Phaneuf opined that a department head doing the analysis was flawed and asked for an internal audit of the department.
Selectman Brian Shifrin (who previously served as Chair of the Recreation Commission) proposed considering accepting the employee’s resignation through a separation agreement, which Special Counsel noted would mean a release from further litigation.
Selectman Dan Kolenda moved not to accept the resignation and instead place the employee on administrative leave and schedule a termination hearing. The vote was 4-1 with only Shifrin opposing.
Selectman Lisa Braccio advocated for an audit to ensure all bases are covered and the matter doesn’t extend any further to additional town employees. The Board’s consensus was for an audit focused on Recreation but identifies other problematic areas with a broad brush. (The July 2019 audit report was shared by the Town last November.) Selectmen authorized spending $10,000 on the audit.
The minutes indicate that the Town was still on the hook for the employee’s pension for her years of service:
After inquiring, the Board was informed [by Special Labor Counsel Attorney Tim Norris] her pension would not be affected; only a court decision could put a lien on her pension.
The board held a termination hearing in Executive Session on May 7, 2019. The employee and her attorney refused to attend. Her attorney disputed the need for the meeting, stating the employee had resigned and given notice to her supervisor.
The board voted 4-0 to terminate her. (Shifrin was absent from the meeting.) There was reference to the employee having made out a check for $70 more dollars in charges that were in the latest billing.
The board asked how the employee was aware of the amount since her Director was asked not to communicate with her. The Board directed Town Administrator Mark Purple to have the IT Manager retrieve “any emails that might have been sent on the subject”.
The Board’s minutes state:
The fact that the [Program Coordinator] is no longer a town employee is a matter of public record, but her termination letter is not a public record. There should also be a directive to staff clarifying the fact that information should not be shared.
As I previously posted, the Police Report (written on April 26th and modified on April 29th) states:
On April 26, 20191 was able to confer with Worcester County Assistant District Attorney Michael Luzzo regarding the matter. Due solely to the fact that the Town of Southborough has already accepted partial restitution from [the employee], the case can not be tried criminally. ADA Luzzo confirmed that the case would have to be litigated civilly in order to recoup any further lost funds.
BOS Chair Marty Healey publicly criticized the prosecutor’s decision this fall.
The May session minutes reference the police report but make no mention of the lack of criminal prosecution. There was also no discussion recorded about potential civil litigation.
The public records requests behind the releasing of documents were filed by resident Jack Barron.
*The 2019 events occurred prior to the hiring of the current Recreation Director and Program Coordinator. (Then-Director Doreen Ferguson was already scheduled to retire that June.)
Since the incident, there has been significant turnover on the Board of Selectmen as well. Only Lisa Braccio and Brian Shea are still members. Prior to the incident, Phaneuf and Shifrin opted not to run for reelection. (Shifrin passed away in November of that year after a battle with ALS.) Healey and Sam Stivers were elected to their seats on May 14, 2019. Kolenda chose not to run for reelection in 2020 and was replaced by Chelsea Malinowski last June.