Water superintendent resigns Oak Bluffs, Tisbury posts, following contract disputes
Water superintendent Deacon Perrotta has resigned his positions managing the Tisbury Water Works and the Oak Bluffs Water District, following an agreement by the two boards to buy out the remaining two years of his contract. His last day on the job was June 30.
In an unusual arrangement, Mr. Perrotta worked half time for each town. Mr. Perrotta's pay and benefits have been the subject of an ongoing controversy in Tisbury.
"They cut my salary in Tisbury," Mr. Perrotta told The Times on Wednesday. "I worked for a year under my contract, that they basically breached by not paying me, and they voted to do it again this year, so it's time for me to move on."
David Schwab, chairman of the Tisbury Water Commission, said each town agreed to pay Mr. Perrotta $45,000, plus unused vacation time, to end his employment. That amounts to about half of what Mr. Perrotta would have earned if he had worked to the end of his five-year agreement.
"The culmination of the last couple of years' controversy got to him," Mr. Schwab said. "We understood. This has been trying on everyone."
Michael deBettencourt, Oak Bluffs water district chairman, said the transition is going smoothly so far. Mr. Perrotta agreed to serve as a consultant for the water districts, to help in the transition period. "I've been called twice, on very small matters," he said.
Water commissioners from the two towns signed a five-year contract with Mr. Perrotta in 2005, which paid him $100,000 plus benefits, including $10,000 in deferred compensation and $3,000 for a retirement account. The contract, which was to be split equally by the two towns, also called for annual increases. A year after the contract was signed, Tisbury selectmen objected to the terms of employment negotiated by the town's water commissioners.
At Tisbury's 2008 annual town meeting, selectman Tristan Israel proposed an amendment to reduce the salary of Mr. Perrotta, as well as that of water systems administrator Lois Norton, by $27,388 each. The amendment also reduced their deferred compensation benefits by $13,000. Voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment, as they did a similar amendment the year before.
In October 2007, the Tisbury selectmen filed a lawsuit against the town's board of water commissioners, the Oak Bluffs Water District, Mr. Perrotta, and Ms. Norton, contesting the employee contracts. The Oak Bluffs Water District does not dispute the salaries, and continues to pay the water district employees the agreed upon amounts.
Mr. Perrotta's resignation poses some logistical problems for operation of the water systems of Tisbury and Oak Bluffs.
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations require two full-time operators with appropriate licensing to run the water systems. Mr. Perrotta and Ms. Norton fulfilled those requirements, though it took a special exception from DEP, which normally does not allow part-time operators.
White Water Inc., based in Auburn, has been hired to provide licensed personnel during the transition period. An operator will be paid for 40 hours of work, at a rate of $90 per hour, plus travel costs to the Island. The two towns each have separate contracts with White Water, splitting the costs equally.
A consultant, Larry Bombara, is also working with the water district commissioners to redefine the superintendent's position. "He's an expert on water systems operations," said Mr. deBettencourt. "He is helping us rewrite our job descriptions, reorganizing our office the way DEP wants us to be. We're not sure what direction we're going to go, but we might have a company like White Water run the water systems. That's only one of many options we might consider."
Mr. Schwab said the result of the re-evaluation will likely be that the towns will no longer combine efforts to manage their water systems. "We're going to go separate ways," he said. "DEP is not going to give us that option. They've said either the towns join together in a regional district, or they go separate."
Mr. Schwab said it is unlikely the two towns would form a regional district. "That would be a horror show," he said. "Look how long it took to get the regional high school. What would be great was if we could have the whole Island become the Martha's Vineyard water district. DEP would love that, but that's never going to happen."
Times reporter Janet Hefler contributed to the story.