Oak Bluffs selectmen mum after secret session

Oak Bluffs selectmen mum after secret session

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Oak Bluffs selectmen met in executive session for more than two hours Tuesday night, and said nothing afterward about what happened behind closed doors, except that the session was continued to Monday at 3:30 pm.

According to state law, selectmen may exclude the public from a meeting for specific reasons, usually to discuss collective bargaining strategy or litigation, to discuss the health of an employee, or to discuss discipline or dismissal of an employee.

Chairman Kathy Burton, reading from the law that outlines the rules for the executive session, gave two reasons for Tuesday’s closed session. First, was to discuss strategy relating to collective bargaining negotiations or litigation. Second, was “to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against a public officer, employee, staff member or individual,” Ms. Burton said.

According to knowledgeable sources who spoke to The Times last week, the closed-door session was to discuss the job performance of town administrator Michael Dutton, who has been under fire for a series of missteps, including a bungled election and a rebuke from state officials over bidding procedures.

The meeting appeared divided into two parts, with selectmen taking a short break in the middle.

Mr. Dutton was the only town employee, present in the second part of the closed session, other than office administrator Alice Butler, who records the minutes of the meeting.

Police chief Erik Blake was present for the first hour of the executive session.

After the selectmen returned to open session, patrolman James Morse, representing the Oak Bluffs Police Officers Association, questioned why selectmen did not act on a new 3-year police contract sooner.

“We have reviewed it and some of the selectmen didn’t have an opportunity to read it,” chairman Kathy Burton said. “It is our plan to vote to ratify that contract on (June) 28.”

The contract expires June 30, and cannot be automatically extended, according to Mr. Morse.

“My concern is, we finished bargaining before April town meeting, two months ago,” Mr. Morse told selectmen as the meeting dragged into its fifth hour. “It’s been sitting there without action for two months. This is borderline bad-faith bargaining. It’s too late to get upset.”