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Rowe in limbo over administrative leave

ROWE — Selectmen’s Chairwoman Marilyn Wilson confirmed Wednesday that, acting alone, she had placed long-time Town Coordinator Ellen Miller on a paid leave of absence — a disciplinary action precipitated by some interaction between Wilson and Miller last Friday.

But the 40-some residents who filled the selectmen’s meeting room still don’t know what happened, or if Miller will be returning to work.

On Thursday afternoon, Wilson said that the Board of Selectmen had voted to continue Miller’s paid administrative leave at least until an executive session can be scheduled with Miller, her attorney and the town’s lawyer.

Selectmen scheduled an executive session for Wednesday “to discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual,” as stated under the first provision of the state’s Open Meeting Law. This clause also gives boards the right to a closed-door session “to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual.”

But, under this provision, the Open Meeting Law also gives the person who is the subject of discussion the option of asking that this meeting be held in public. “The individual’s right to choose to have this discussion in an open meeting takes precedence over the right of the public body to go into executive session,” the law states.

Miller’s lawyer was unable to attend, so she requested a postponement, until her lawyer could be present.

However, the board went ahead with an executive session on Wednesday, using the same Open Meeting Law criteria, so that Wilson could tell fellow board members “of the catalyst for Friday’s events, and to get a vote to either rescind the action or to validate it,” she wrote in the meeting agenda.

While the board was in executive session, Miller was in Town Hall, but not in the selectmen’s meeting room itself. She later came into the selectmen’s meeting room after the board emerged from its closed-door meeting.

When reached Thursday by phone, Miller said she had not been asked if she wanted this meeting to be held in public session.

In a subsequent phone interview, Wilson said that Miller had been informed of this separate executive session meeting, both verbally and in writing, and could have requested that it be in open session if she wanted it to be.

Both town attorney Joseph Fair of Kopelman & Paige and Miller’s attorney, John Gates of Greenfield, have been called for comment on whether Open Meeting Law protocol was followed, but neither have returned phone calls.

During the public comment period at the end of the board meeting, resident Prudence Berry asked, “What happened Friday with Ellen Miller, and was it on behalf of the full board?”

Wilson said she had put Miller on paid administrative leave until the executive session with Miller and her lawyer.

Wilson said she couldn’t give more information because she is trapped by employment laws regarding employees’ privacy rights and Open Meeting Law, which prevents any deliberation by selectmen outside the confines of a posted meeting.

“Because of Open Meeting Law, I could not discuss this with my fellow selectmen before today,” she told the audience. “I can’t give you details, but I can assure you I’m doing everything by the book.”

“Can you tell us if she’s back to work,” asked former Selectman Paul McLatchy III.

“I was advised to say nothing,” said Wilson.

“I’m mystified by what happened,” Berry remarked.

“I can’t tell you what happened,” Wilson repeated. “I don’t know if I can ever tell you what happened.”

Miller is also a Rowe resident and was a five-term selectman who won an election race for selectman in 2003, then resigned her seat in 2004 to become town coordinator.

Miller told the board she had three tentative dates when her lawyer could meet with her and the board, in late August. The lawyers are to confer about a date.

When asked who would be doing Miller’s work until the matter is resolved, Wilson said she is working with Sandra Daviau, the town’s tax collector and assessor’s clerk, to handle routine business.

Miller will remain on paid administrative leave until an executive session can be scheduled with her lawyer.

A clarification was made to this story after it appeared in print to make clear that Miller will remain on paid leave until an executive session is set with her lawyer.

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