Fireworks come early at selectmen's meeting

Written by Susanna Sheehan  | Created: Friday, 03 July 2009 13:03  |  Category: ROOT
Last Updated: Monday, 06 July 2009 19:52  | Friday, 03 July 2009 13:03

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At Monday’s meeting, Selectman Christopher Donato proposed hiring a human resources consulting company to conduct an independent performance evaluation on Town Manager Richard MacDonald. However, the other two selectmen did not approve of this idea, with Chairwoman Betsy Sullivan accusing Donato of having a “thinly veiled agenda.”

The motion never came to a vote, as Donato acknowledged he didn’t have the support of the other two selectmen.

Donato made a motion Monday night to hire the company Cape HR Partners, LLC of West Falmouth for $4,500 to perform an evaluation of MacDonald. Donato said that the outside consultant was needed to look into “morale problems” within town government and investigate the charges behind the recent letters of no confidence sent to MacDonald by two police unions, as well as allegations of “intimidation,” including a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint filed against MacDonald by an employee.

As a selectman, Donato said he has been approached by people who have concerns about the management of Duxbury’s government.

“I am aware of these issues,” said Donato.  “We need someone with independent knowledge … We have to figure out a way to deal with these issues.”

Donato said he wanted an “outside person” to come into town hall over a two week period to look over the policies and procedures connected with the town manager and to interview employees. The consultant would then issue a report, he said.

Donato said the basis for his request was Duxbury’s Town Manager Act, which allows selectmen “to investigate the affairs of the town and the conduct of any town department, office, or agency, including any doubtful claims against the town.”

He said this type of study was less costly than the recent review of the Department of Public Works by former DPW director Wally Tonazsuck. He pointed out that selectmen did not perform an evaluation of MacDonald last year as they should have as spelled out by the town manager’s act.

Sullivan and Selectman Jon Witten did not support Donato’s motion.

Sullivan felt there was no need to bring in an outside consultant since it is the selectmen’s responsibility to evaluate the town manager. She said the evaluation process was spelled out in the Town Manager’s Act, and added that the town had a personnel board made up of human resources professionals who could perform the task Donato was referring to for free.

Sullivan felt the internal study of the entire DPW with its four divisions and 40 employees could not be compared to conducting a study of just one position such as the town manager. She also took issue with the company Donato suggested saying it had “no work experience with municipal government” and pointed out that according to a resume, the company owner’s last job was “owning a bagel shop.”

“How is it you felt comfortable interviewing someone to work for the town on your own?” Sullivan asked Donato. “You don’t get to hire people for the town ... This is not how business is conducted in municipal government.”

Donato said the “morale problem” in town hall must be addressed, but Sullivan said the board of selectmen’s open meeting was not the proper forum in which to discuss those issues. Donato said that’s why he wanted an independent review of MacDonald.

“What are we afraid of?” asked Donato.

“You have a thinly veiled agenda that you want to bring forward,” said Sullivan. “We have rules and regulations that we follow. We color within the lines.”

Donato replied: “Am I crazy to ask why we have issues and allegations and letters of no confidence that I feel we should investigate?… Do you believe there is no problem in our town?”

“Not the way you’re suggesting,” said Sullivan.

Selectman Jon Witten said he did not “feel comfortable singling out the town manager” for a study as Donato suggested. He said any discussion of character should be done in executive session.

“I would always support a review of the town government structure,” said Witten. “But I think it should be generalized … I do not think hiring an outside firm is a good idea. I think your motion is too specific.”

Witten said as the former chairman of the board, it was his fault last year for not performing an evaluation on MacDonald. He said he began collecting information from the other two selectmen for the evaluation but never finalized a report.

Witten said selectmen should begin MacDonald’s evaluation and complete it by its July due date. He said the selectmen “needed to be careful about the process” and “deal with personnel matters under the cloak of executive session” and that they should have Town Counsel Robert Troy present.

“I am still naively optimistic things can get sorted out,” said Witten.