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Former Conway administrator alleges violations

Wants monetary compensation

CONWAY — The former town administrator, Ed MacDonald, claims the Board of Selectmen violated state open meeting law and demands a payout of $14,301 in owed wages and benefits.

Selectmen’s Chairman John O’Rourke, however, refuted the claims and referred the issue to the town’s lawyer in a statement backed by selectmen Rick Bean and Jim Moore at Monday evening’s meeting of the board.

“The allegations concerning the ‘Complaint of Open Meeting Law Violation’ are unfounded,” O’Rourke stated. “These allegations are being used as an attempt by Mr. MacDonald to legitimate his excuse to resign. The real reason for his resignation will be revealed in the facts surrounding his resignation.”

In two different letters dated Feb. 4., MacDonald’s attorney, Stanley L. Weinberg of Shrewsbury, addresses the two complaints. The letters are the first correspondence the selectmen have had with MacDonald since he surprised them with a resignation letter on Jan. 7 after only 47 days on the job as the town’s first full-time town administrator.

Though MacDonald gave a 30-day notice, the selectmen voted to terminate his employment on Jan. 14, after discovering MacDonald had never quit his other administrative job in Chester.

MacDonald could not be reached for comment on this story.

In the first letter, Weinberg writes on Jan. 14, the selectmen voted to terminate the employment of MacDonald in violation of the open meeting law “because such employment termination issue was not identified in any notice for that meeting and the vote to terminate appeared to be a fait accompli.”

Weinberg suggests the vote appeared to have been discussed and deliberated by the selectmen outside of the meeting.

According to Weinberg’s letter, O’Rourke had earlier that same day discussed with Treasurer Janice Warner the final payroll check payout for MacDonald.

Weinberg argues this is further evidence that the termination decision had been made by the selectmen in “secret meetings and deliberations.”

Weinberg also cites another instance on Jan. 7, in which MacDonald believes the selectmen violated open meeting law.

On that day, O’Rourke and Selectman Rick Bean told MacDonald to place the name of a person on the agenda for the board meeting that night at which it would interview candidates for the highway superintendent because “the Board wanted to interview that person.”

Yet, MacDonald claims, there was no prior meeting of the selectmen or notices to reflect any discussion or deliberation related to the person filling the vacancy. “So the board decision to include that person in its Jan. 7. interviews had to have been made secretly and in violation of the open meeting law,” Weinberg states.

According to Weinberg, MacDonald felt pressured and compelled to submit his written resignation as a result of “political interference by the board into the selectmen process for a person to fill a vacancy in the position of highway superintendent — telling MacDonald to include a particular person, who failed to meet the established educational requirements for the position ... as well as the board’s apparent violation of the open meeting law.”

The board had interviewed four candidates — Christopher Radzuik, 41, of Erving; Walter Piekarski, 35, of Greenfield, Mark Bernier, 51, of Turners Falls and Ron Sweet, 54, of Conway.

The Personnel Committee recently recommended Bernier for the job, but preferred Sweet. The committee did not recommend Sweet for the job outright due to a conflict of interest with his son, who also works in the department.

“The board willfully and unjustifiably violated these statutory duties and requirements,” Weinberg writes, referring to open meeting law and conflict of interest law paperwork.

On behalf of MacDonald, Weinberg demands that the Jan. 14 vote to terminate MacDonald’s employment be rescinded. He also demands the selectmen release to the public the minutes of “the secret meetings held concerning the interview decision on Jan. 7., 2013 and the employment termination decision held on Jan. 14, 2013.”

The second letter concerns what MacDonald claims is an “unlawful and unjustified termination of his employment” and the town’s failure to pay him all owed compensation. MacDonald is demanding a payout of $14,301 that covers his last week regular pay period, three weeks of vacation time, 120 hours of sick time, 30 hours of personal time, 96 hours of compensatory time and four weeks for “violating contract” for the selectmen not accepting his 30-day notice. MacDonald claims his time was earned on Nov. 26, the first day of his employment.

There is a difference of opinion between the selectmen and MacDonald on what he is owed.

First off, MacDonald believes his hourly rate was based on a 30-hour work week, as specified by the Franklin County Retirement System’s new member enrollment form. The selectmen, however, calculated his hours based on a 37.5-hour work week.

MacDonald claims the selectmen unlawfully and improperly terminated his employment on Jan. 14 even though he was prepared to work until Feb. 7. MacDonald claims he is entitled to be paid his contractual salary through Feb. 7, not through Jan. 13. According to MacDonald’s calculations, this totals 120 hours of compensation owed and unpaid.

He also claims he accrued 90 hours of unused vacation time rather than 15.7 hours, which the selectmen paid him for. MacDonald states that during contract negotiations with Bean, MacDonald received three weeks of vacation on the day of his employment.

MacDonald also demands he be paid for 30 hours of sick time and 54 hours of compensatory time. He claims the town paid him only 4.2 hours of personal time and no compensatory time, leaving him with 25.8 hours of personal time and 30 hours of compensatory time unpaid.

O’Rourke, on the other hand, said the town had paid all it owes to MacDonald.

O’Rourke said he directed the town treasurer to print a final $3,642 check for MacDonald, which included his last two week regular pay period, four days of compensatory time for the four days he volunteered to work between Oct. 18 and his start date of Nov. 26 during his 30-day notice period for leaving his position as the town administrator for Chester and accrued vacation, sick and personal time for the 43 days he worked.

O’Rourke pointed out that MacDonald had also worked for Hatfield in April 2012 and resigned after working for the town less than a week. Hatfield selectmen’s Chairman Jan Joseph Adamski confirmed that MacDonald had only worked two weeks as the town’s administrative assistant, a 40-hour-per-week salaried job, before he resigned.

“He was here for about two weeks at most. I saw him twice. Once on a Saturday. He cited something about his contract. We thought he understood what the rate of pay was,” Adamski said.

Like the Conway selectmen, the Hatfield selectmen also believed MacDonald had given up his job in Chester.

In November, the selectmen came under scrutiny and criticism from other town boards and committees after the Planning Board discovered the selectmen quietly laying plans for the Rose property, the 11-acre riverfront site off Shelburne Falls Road .MacDonald had originally organized a site visit with the selectmen and two Westfield engineers to see the property.

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