HANSON — Selectmen have voted to seek a new computerized bookkeeping system at Camp Kiwanee, but rejected a deeper audit of past event contracts and the applications of five residents seeking appointment to the Recreation Commission.
The latter vote hinged on whether the proper application process had been followed by former commission members Janet Agius, Tricia Dransfield and Sheila Morse as well as resident John Mahoney, who has been active in Camp Kiwanee programs over the years. Only former Commissioner Audrey Flanagan had completed an application form to support her letter seeking appointment, but she was also passed over in a 3-2 vote when Selectmen voted on the applications as a slate, instead of individually.
Selectmen Bruce Young and Don Howard voted to approve the appointments and Kenny Mitchell, Bill Scott and Chairman James McGahan voted against. Young and McGahan had earlier voted to support a more detailed audit while Mitchell, Scott and Howard voted against it.
“For us to move forward would be putting the cart ahead of the horse,” Scott said on the appointments vote while the 30-day period for objections to the Kiwanee report is still in effect. “I want to hear the results of that, to hear whether or not that changes anything … and then consider applications.”
He said at that time anyone who applies would be considered. Young, however, argued there is no correlation between the two issues.
The heated discussions on both the audit proposal and appointments came after Young had proposed three recommendations regarding the Recreation Commission in the wake of last month’s report on the Camp Kiwanee investigation by labor counsel Leo Peloquin. Besides the new bookkeeping system and audit, Young had also suggested disciplinary action be considered against the town employee whose “serious errors” fueled the investigation. No action or discussion followed that recommendation, as it was deemed a personnel matter.
“The report basically deals with examination of records,” Young said. “One of the problems you have at Camp Kiwanee is the records down there are not integrated with the rest of the town.”
Young, a retired accountant, successfully argued that the WHRSD technology department, which also serves the town, be asked to install a simple online bookkeeping system to solve the problem.
His urging for a more detailed audit, however, met with resistance from some Selectmen who wished to move forward on the issue.
Young’s concern was that the 49 contracts focused on as examples of improper rental discounts in the report were pulled by “the same individual who had a strained relationship with many people named in the report, members of the commission and some employees.”
“The possibility does exist that there are many other instances of mistakes or deviations from the rental agreements and policies and procedure over that time,” Young said. “We need somebody to go through and ascertain what the magnitude of those deviations are because I don’t think it ends with the 49.”
He said he went through some of them before the Tuesday, Nov. 1 meeting and found 10 to 15 other contracts that showed rates that deviated from policy.
Young said a neutral third party should have reviewed the contracts as part of the investigation.
“I want to move on with this,” said Mitchell, who did agree a new bookkeeping program was needed going forward. “I don’t want to keep going back and looking into contracts and coming up with the same result. We’ve got to move forward.”
“We’re talking about things that were done and completed and are gone,” Howard agreed. “Can’t we just start now?”
Several members of the audience, including past Recreation Commission members, expressed concern with Young’s findings even as they agreed on a need to move forward.
One resident reminded Selectmen of their decision following Peloquin’s report, against seeking unpaid balances owed on improperly discounted rental agreements. Young replied that was not the point of an audit.
“He still wants to know how much of this is a problem,” McGahan said.
“We have no idea what the magnitude of this problem is,” Young said.
Resident Colleen McGrath-Smith said the purpose of a compliance check, with which she has experience, is simply to establish an historical record and offered her services to conduct one on a voluntary basis.
“It’s how you build the framework for the future,” she said.
Former Kiwanee employee James Flanagan also urged an audit.
“Everything was pointed at me [in the report] … now everyone wants to sweep it under the carpet,” he said. “I’m getting stuffed under there, too.”
McGahan expressed concern about the cost and time involved in a “full-blown audit,” but that, going forward, an independent audit every three years would be desirable.
Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett also reminded the meeting that the Recreation Commission has been given until Nov. 30 to challenge the report with Peloquin, but added that since the problems are already known, the benefit of “exhuming all these bodies” is unclear.
“I don’t think it’s going to further our goal of moving forward [and] getting things on the straight and narrow,” she said.
“She obviously doesn’t understand what I said,” Young retorted, drawing a reprimand from McGahan for a lack of respect. Young also reminded residents that the records, as public documents, are open for any resident to review.
Mitchell’s aside sparked another argument about Young’s offer to do just that.
“That’s not a conflict of interest?” Mitchell said.
“I don’t have any financial interest in this,” Young strongly countered. “I resent that remark.” As McGahan gaveled for order, Young said, “He went there.”
The contentious atmosphere intensified when the Recreation Commission appointments were discussed.
McGahan started that conversation by reading a decision from town counsel that the Recreation Commission members’ August mass resignation was effective as soon as their letters were filed with the town clerk.
“A resignation need not be accepted by the appointing authority to be effective,” McGahan read. “Unless a resignation notice sets forth a public future date of resignation, it it’s effective on the date of its submission.”
Selectmen were divided on whether the letters for application or reappointment they received from four of the five applicants constituted actual applications since a form had not been filled out.
“[In] the letters we sent you, we asked to be reappointed,” Agius said.
McGahan said he did not think the window for applications had been opened, but Town Administrator Michael McCue said the board had alluded to its wish to fill the positions.
Members of the audience, including Audrey Flanagan noted the vacancies have been read as announcements at Selectmen’s meetings since Sept. 9, which meant that the application window had been opened.
Agius said if the board waits much longer to reappoint a Recreation Commission, hiring a new director by January would not be possible, but McGahan indicated McCue could start that process in his current status as interim director for Kiwanee. Young also pointed out that McCue has said he does not want to serve in that role any longer than he has to.
“It’s a seven-member board,” Joanne Blauss said. “You have five people here who are willing to go on it now, that still gives you two positions for the general public.”
McGahan said public servants owe their service to the public interest, not self-interest. Resignations, therefore, should be limited to “just cause,” such as health or family considerations.
“Resigning simply to make a statement was a selfish thing,” he said to a chorus of catcalls. “That’s how I feel about it, regardless of whether you agree with it or not — with all due respect.”
McGahan said, for that reason, his personal vote would be no.
Morse said they were told the matter had been tabled when the resignations were discussed and that they were later told a letter of application were appropriate. Dransfield said that, when she was first appointed to the Recreation Commission in January by a letter of application, she was given no indication that an investigation was being conducted and her resignation outlined how she felt about the situation and her inability to be effective as the investigation dragged on.
“We’ve been accused of bad record-keeping from another perspective,” McGahan said. “I want to see the paperwork.”
McCue said he had told the applicants that a letter would be permissible, based on past discussions with the board.
“It seems like you’re moving in the right direction,” said resident Tim Leonard. “But you’ve got a lot of people who want to help you out, and they are eager to do it. Why not just let them do it?”
The 3-2 vote was followed by an emotional outburst, prompting McGahan call a recess during which time a police officer was summoned to ensure order and McGahan, as well as other Selectmen, held sidebar conversations with some of the applicants before the meeting was resumed.