Selectmen tough on Oak Bluffs town administrator contract

Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton (right with microphone) speaks to voters at a special town meeting Tuesday, while selectmen look on. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Oak Bluffs selectmen met in executive session Monday. When they reconvened in public session they voted unanimously to declare that town administrator Michael Dutton’s employment contract has “no force and effect,” because the town does not have a signed copy of the legal document. Selectmen are taking the position that the contract is not binding or enforcable.

“The copy the town attorney has and the copy I was given, has no signature by the town administrator,” board chairman Kathy Burton said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Jack Collins, who specializes in municipal labor law, attended the meeting on behalf of the selectmen. Mr. Collins advised the board to take the action, according to Ms. Burton.

In a phone conversation with The Times Wednesday, Mr. Dutton said he has a signed copy of his employment contract. Selectmen invited Mr. Dutton to the executive session Monday, but he did not attend. He declined comment on the selectmen’s action.

Selectmen contacted by The Times would not comment on what they discussed behind closed doors, but did speak about the action they took in public session afterward.

“When you’re talking about Mr. Dutton’s contract in public, what does that tell you?” selectman Walter Vail said. “We don’t know where he stands, and we’re just trying to be sure that all that we do with respect to our commitments to the town administrator and other employees, is to do the right thing when it comes to review of their performance. It takes time. You have to take it step by step. We haven’t been in this position in many, many years.”

Selectmen continued the executive session to July 5. Last Monday’s meeting was continued from an executive session that began on June 14.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on this. We should be doing much more progressive stuff. We’re trying very hard to move forward,” Mr. Vail said. “One of the things we don’t want is more negative publicity about our town. We just really don’t need more headlines to stir the pot.”

Mr. Dutton’s employment contract stipulates that any action by selectmen to dismiss the town administrator requires four votes. If there is no valid contract, three votes, or a simple majority may take action. Town personnel bylaws that cover discipline or dismissal of a town employee may also apply.