Erving admin. protests executive session as overreaction; board agrees to mediation
ERVING — The Board of Selectmen on Monday agreed to mediation with their 11-year town administrator after calling Thomas Sharp into an executive session — threatening his job — over a botched public meeting notice and nonspecific complaints from the chairman regarding his work schedule, conduct and expectations.
Sharp waived his right to a closed session, keeping the meeting open to the public in part, he said, because he wanted a public promise from the board to engage in mediation with him.
Sharp admitted a mistake in posting the meeting, but questioned the value of an official reprimand. Sharp disagreed with the chairman’s characterization of another of his complaints as an issue of conduct, and offered to go over his time sheet with the board. The question of expectations was removed from the list when Chairman Eugene Klepadlo could not explain what it meant.
The meeting issue dates to a special town meeting scheduled for June 30 and canceled after Sharp discovered he had made an error in the public posting of the meeting by signing and posting the meeting warrant himself when the expected constable was unavailable. Sharp said the town lawyer and Attorney General agreed the meeting should be canceled over the error.
The June 30 meeting would have spent $320,000 in town surplus for the last fiscal year on a number of items, the largest of which was a transfer to build up a fund for tax assessment work in 2015.
Chairman Eugene Klepadlo read the notice served to Sharp at work by the chief of police, calling him into an executive session to consider discipline or dismissal for “special town meeting posting, conduct, work hours and expectations.”
Klepadlo said the town meeting posting was the main issue, saying Sharp should have notified the town’s other two constables and should do so in the future. Sharp agreed. The expected constable was at a funeral, he said, and the posting had to be done the evening the board signed the document in order to comply with the 14-day notice requirement.
Klepadlo said the board would give him a verbal warning on that incident.
Sharp said he had taken responsibility for the mistake and informed the board the day he learned of it and questioned the need for an executive session.
“To put a person in this chair, which could lead up to immediate dismissal, is a huge thing,” Sharp said.
“Section 1 executive session is for big things,” Sharp said. “It’s for something where you really are considering dismissal. It’s for when the employee has six beers at lunch and comes back to work. It’s for when an employee steals money. I really think that caution needs to be exercised,” Sharp said.
Sharp said that the evening in question included the executive session at which the board eliminated another long-time employee’s job.
“It was a curve ball. I got a curve ball. I was not in the best place mentally because of earlier explanations,” Sharp said.
Paul Prest, a 28-year town employee, lost his job in June after the Board of Selectmen rearranged the water, wastewater and highway departments, eliminating his job as director of public works. The board had created the position in 2012, eliminating Prest’s former job as highway director in the process, then re-hiring him for the new position. When the board went back on that decision, Prest lost his job.
“I admit it got to me and I dropped the ball,” Sharp said. The effect is that the town won’t be able to spend the money until the fall, he said.
Klepadlo said the board needs to get better about following the personnel policy and documenting problems. “We come to a point where if more action is required, we don’t have documentation,” Klepadlo said.
Selectman Margaret Sullivan said that it is difficult to talk to employees about any issue without calling an executive session.
Selectman William Bembury said that he was concerned only with the meeting accident and only with documenting such incidents to protect the town and the employee in future.
On the question of conduct, Klepadlo said he understood the board has some leeway to deal with last-minute business not included on the legal posting for selectmen’s meetings, but had spoken to Sharp before about this. “Some of the conduct has to do with the agenda, sneaking things into the agenda.”
Sharp objected to the characterization of this as an issue of conduct, saying he was presenting the board with a choice — not sneaking things in — but will stop bringing late business.
“There are a lot of residents in this town who think we do not do things openly, and we need to do things 100 percent openly,” Klepadlo said. “Given what has happened in this town over the past two years, I think we need to be 100 percent open.”
Two years ago, the Board of Selectmen ousted the fire chief of many years, Almon “Bud” Meattey III, in a move that polarized residents and the Fire Department, and the reasons for which were not fully explained. The selectmen at the time — Bembury has since replaced then-chairman Andrew Goodwin — were also divided on the matter.
The small town has gone through a number of employees in the last two years, including Meattey and five of his supporters who resigned in protest, police Sgt. Corey Greene, who resigned following his suspension over a cloudy disciplinary matter, and Prest.
Regarding his work hours, Sharp said he gives the town a good day for its dollar and if he has not been at his desk it was for a reason other than sleeping in.
“I will stand on it that more often than not I am the first person to arrive, well before 10 a.m., and the last person to leave,” Sharp said.
Regarding expectations, Klepadlo said Sharp and the board needed to establish what they expected from each other. Asked for comment by Klepadlo, Bembury said he didn’t know what that meant. Sharp said he didn’t, either. “Usually there are charges,” he said, and asked if it was an appropriate topic for an executive session. Klepadlo said it wasn’t a charge, and the board will discuss it in regular session.
Ultimately, the board agreed to schedule a retreat with a mediator within the next two months, at Sharp’s request, provided retreats can legally be held as closed meetings, which Sharp said they can. Sullivan and Klepadlo voted to approve the request, but Bembury was opposed.
You can reach Chris Curtis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 257