Conway board chairman denies secret meetings
CONWAY — Chairman of the Selectboard John O’Rourke said he alone made the decision to put a current town employee on the interview list for highway superintendent, and there were no “secret meetings or deliberations” by the Selectboard as alleged by former Town Administrator Ed MacDonald.
“These allegations of Open Meeting Law violations are distractions to cover the real reasons for his resignation, to legitimize his resignation and as a defense to allege contract violations against the Board of Selectmen to collect for more vacation, sick, personal and compensatory time than is owed to him,” O’Rourke said.
This week, the Selectboard received two complaints from MacDonald, claiming the board violated the state’s Open Meeting Law. MacDonald also demanded a payout of $14,301 in wages and benefits he claims he’s owed.
A copy of O’Rourke’s 15-page response to MacDonald’s allegations will be released on Tuesday, he said.
“The decisions made in both of these instances were solely mine and did not involve ‘secret meetings or deliberations’ as alleged by Stanley Weinberg, the attorney for Edward MacDonald,” O’Rourke told The Recorder this week.
In the fall, the Selectboard hired MacDonald for 37.5 hours per week and $52,000 a year. On Jan. 7, 47 days after starting the job, MacDonald handed in his resignation with a 30-day notice. On Jan. 14, the Selectboard voted to accept his resignation immediately after discovering he had never quit his previous job as town administrator in Chester, a promise O’Rourke said he made during his interview.
The Selectboard began the search for a new administrator and did not hear from MacDonald again until this week, when it received two letters dated Feb. 4 from MacDonald’s lawyer.
In one letter, MacDonald said that on Jan. 7 O’Rourke and fellow Selectboard member Rick Bean told him to place public works foreman Ron Sweet on the interview list for the highway superintendent. MacDonald concluded that decision “had to have been made secretly and in violation of the open meeting law.”
O’Rourke explained that as chairman, he directed MacDonald — who as town administrator works for and reports to the Selectboard — to include a candidate in the interview process who MacDonald left out of the process after reviewing resumes.
“As Chairman of the Board of Selectmen and having more information to make that decision, it was my prerogative to overrule the town administrator,” O’Rourke said. “The characterization that my actions in this matter were ‘political interference’ that ‘pressured and compelled’ Edward MacDonald to resign is nonsense.”
MacDonald also alleged that the Selectboard violated the Open Meeting Law when it voted to accept his resignation on Jan. 14. MacDonald claimed the Selectboard did not post any notice that it would discuss his termination and that the vote appeared to have been discussed and deliberated by the selectmen outside of the meeting.
O’Rourke rebutted this argument, stating, “I made the decision to introduce a motion at the meeting of the Board of Selectmen to accept the resignation of Edward MacDonald, but not to accept the notice he offered based on his dishonest behavior.”
Highway boss choice
The Selectboard will make its decision on the new highway superintendent on Monday.
It is considering four applicants — Christopher Radzuik, 41, of Erving; Walter Piekarski, 35, of Greenfield; Mark Bernier, 51, of Turners Falls; and Sweet, 54, of Conway.
The Personnel Committee, the town board that is charged with vetting new hires, recommended Bernier for the job in January. The committee suggested the Selectboard keep Sweet as foreman, a position he had held in the department for three years, because he did not meet the educational requirements specified in the job description, which required a high school diploma or GED.
The Personnel Committee was concerned about Sweet’s ability to manage a budget and write grant applications, according to the committee’s meeting minutes of Jan. 16.
Sweet is in the process of obtaining a GED — which he began before the superintendent job came up, O’Rourke said.
Sweet could not be reached for comment.
The Personnel Committee was also concerned about a conflict of interest that may be caused if Sweet were hired, because his son, Nicholas Sweet, works for the department as well.
The state conflict of interest law forbids a municipal employee from overseeing an immediate family member or partner who has a financial interest.
To avoid the possiblity of a conflict, Sweet had to submit three disclosure forms to the state Ethics Commission, which he did in late January. Only then could the Selectboard consider him.
The town has to abide by the state’s conflict of interest law, because it does not have its own nepotism policy in effect. In July, the Personnel Committee proposed a new personnel handbook with a nepotism policy. The new handbook is in the process of being revised.
O’Rourke said the Selectboard is considering all the information — the Personnel Committee’s recommendation and concerns and Sweet’s disclosure — before it makes its final decision. It is also waiting on the town attorney’s advice.
Although Sweet does not meet the educational requirements, O’Rourke said he is in the running because of his experience. The job would not necessarily be contingent on his gaining a GED, O’Rourke said.
“The experience and knowledge (Sweet) has on the Highway Department far surpasses his need for a GED ... Ron has significant experience on the roads of Conway. He’s run a business on his own. He’s well aware of how to run an operation. His experience is certainly equivalent to a GED.”
Sweet is serving as the interim superintendent right now. O’Rourke said the Selectboard made the decision early on because “we wanted to have someone in there.”
Bob Baker, the former highway superintendent, is serving as the highway consultant until the Selectboard hires his replacement. He retired from the job in January. He still serves as the town’s fire chief.
The highway boss would receive between a $46,000 and $48,000 a year salary with no overtime pay. The department head oversees a $483,417 budget and four workers.
You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at::
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.