HANSON — Selectmen closed the investigation into Recreation Commission oversight of Camp Kiwanee on Tuesday, Dec. 13 after hearing labor counsel Leo Peloquin defend the conclusions of original his October report. The Board of Selectmen voted 4-0, with Selectman Don Howard abstaining, to conclude the probe and move forward.
Selectmen also set a Jan. 6 deadline for interested residents to apply for appointment to a reconstituted Recreation Commission, with the plan to vote on appointments at the Tuesday, Jan. 10 meeting. Selectmen hope to see a recreation director in place by the end of January.
“I don’t think [the reports] are trying to take away from the amount of hard work that anyone has done,” Selectmen Chairman James McGahan said, noting that oversight procedures are now being improved. “I think when somebody works on something so hard for so long, a sense of entitlement starts to form, and I think it’s human nature.”
McGahan agreed with Peloquin’s assertion, however, that there was no “hard evidence” refuting the labor counsel report and said he saw a great deal of confusion concerning rental rates at Kiwanee.
“We have to focus on what the problem is,” McGahan said. “There’s a problem here of making sure we follow the rules.”
Peloquin, in an 83-minute presentation, responded in detail to a Nov. 28 rebuttal by attorney George H. Boerger of Duxbury of the original report’s conclusions. Boerger representing Kiwannee caretaker James Flanagan and former Recreation Commission members Maria McClellan, Sue Lonergan, Dave Blauss and Janet Agius. Peloquin’s report can be obtained electronically by contacting the Selectmen’s office and may be viewed on W-H Community Access TV.
“The essence of my report was that, over … the past six years I identified, just based on documents, that there were more than 50 instances where individuals had rented facilities at Camp Kiwanee for a discounted rate,” he said. “In the response there’s no check to refute this, there’s not even an attempt to refute this.”
None of the discounts were brought before the Board of Selectmen, and none were brought before the Recreation Commission to be considered, Peloquin said. The authorizing parties were not always apparent.
Peloquin also said, if the legal bill meter started with initial audit last December, he wouldn’t doubt Boerger’s assertion that the town has spent $62,905 on the investigation.
The key points raised by what he terms the “Camp Kiwanee group,” and to which Peloquin responded Tuesday were:
• The group’s response challenges only a handful of more that 50 discounted rental agreements documented by the investigation;
• Lonergan received “significantly discounted rentals including her use of ‘Kiwanee cash;
• McClellan authorized a discounted rental for her niece at the Needles Lodge library;
• Peter Giovannini, a former Hanson teacher, received significantly discounted rental agreements and other privileges from 2011-16;
• Former Hanson Town Administrator, Michael Finglas denies the new claim by the Camp Kiwanee group that he approved the Kiwanee Cash program;
• David Blauss does not challenge the investigation findings that his mother received a discounted rate to rent the lodge for a family Christmas party for several years;
• Blauss does not challenge the investigation findings that he allowed his cousin, who also worked for him, to stay at Camp Kiwanee without paying. His claim that it was solely to provide security is not credible and was an abuse of authority, no matter what the reason for allowing it;
• The group’s contention that former Town Administrator Ron San Angelo denied the Recreation Commission access to records, contradicts the plain language of his email, which made it clear they were to receive access on request;
• New reasons offered for Debbie Blauss’ financial deal for yoga instruction were not persuasive; and that
• The investigation was prolonged by a lack of cooperation by key commissioners and Recreation Commission employees.
“These people are very strong in character and nature,” McGahan said about the records request issue. “I don’t believe — in any way, shape or form — they would have taken no for an answer if they couldn’t see the records.”
He said he believed they would have demanded access from the town administrator, picketed and come to the Selectmen, as he would have done.
“I would have kept pressing for those records,” McGahan said, noting the latest report showed contradictions in the rebuttals. “I saw no evidence of that.”
Resident Richard Edgehille lauded Peloquin’s work as well as the board’s on the investigation.
“The audit brought this all on your shoulders,” he told Selectmen. “This guy did a great job. Most of the people in town are not connected personally with these people, you guys did a great job.”
McGahan said it has been a difficult and uncomfortable process and expressed surprise that the room was not full of Recreation Commission supporters as it has been at previous meetings.
Audrey Flanagan said in an email Wednesday morning that the commission members did not attend the meeting because, “They felt that, based on previous statements from McGahan, that they would not get the chance to defend themselves (again) and that they simply were not interested in Leo’s rebuttal of the rebuttal.”
Only one resident present at the meeting, Susan McGrath of 66 Gerald St., spoke on behalf of the Recreation Commission, but she also agreed that problems began when Kiwanee was turned into an enterprise as a wedding venue in 2012.
Policies vs rules
“This is policies and procedures — things that should have been fixed along the way a while ago,” McGrath said.
Selectmen Bruce Young, Bill Scott and Kenny Mitchell agreed with that point.
“The internal control is not there,” Young said.
“This lady hit the nail right on the head,” Scott said. “When this became an enterprise account, so-called, there were no rules put in place for the governing of that. We were still going on the old — not rules — policies and procedures.”
A retired police chief, Scott compared it to policies and procedures governing police conduct that allow officers flexibility in given circumstances, but said that departments are also governed by firm rules and regulations.
“If we move forward, we’ve got to go forward with a set of rules for the Recreation Commission that will have to be abided by,” he said. “No one is knocking what they did or didn’t do. It’s just the whole thing fell apart procedurally.”
“We’re all municipal employees,” Mitchell said. “We have to answer to our people. … I wish a lot of these [Recreation Commission] people had answered questions when the investigator had contacted them initially, and once the investigation came up that some of the people said, ‘I made a mistake, I didn’t mean anything by it,’ so this thing didn’t drag on. It just made it worse.”
McGrath also said she felt the issue began when someone felt the Recreation Commission had to be disbanded and set out to make sure that happened.
McGahan countered that, as Kiwanee belongs to the community and the rules have to apply to everyone adding he hopes the result is the creation of something stronger.
“We have here an issue that has generated a lot of angst in the community,” McGrath said. “One of the reasons is, I think, is because this is an issue that’s sort of in the bedrock of the town of Hanson. Some of the people involved in the report have been people that are pillars of the community.”
The 38-year resident said Hanson residents’ willingness to pitch in and help each other is what makes it the kind of community in which she wants to live.
“I don’t feel it’s [a sense of] entitlement, I feel that it’s a stewardship,” she said. “You’ve got to take a step back to look at the forest for some of these trees.”
Howard also asked why there were no plays staged at Kiwanee’s Needles Lodge this year — a regular fundraising effort for the camp.
“Half of these people you mention are part of my family,” Howard said. “I’m very upset about it. This is the first time I’ve really heard everything here … I think it’s disgusting — I’ll be very frank and honest with you.”
McGahan said the group was asked about that and had replied that the did not wish to do it this year.
Joanne Blauss said McCue wouldn’t confirm that we could have more than one rehearsal night a week.
“Over the years we’ve settled for two nights a week (three would be better, but that’s been our compromise), but now they won’t even assure us of that,” she said in an email Tuesday night.