Oak Bluffs Council on Aging lags in financial review

Mae Deary

A review of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging by a committee charged with looking for more efficient ways to spend taxpayer money is far behind schedule, because the director of the Council on Aging (COA) has not provided information requested for the financial analysis.

The ad-hoc fiscal sub-committee of the Oak Bluffs Community Development Council, drawing on the expertise and volunteer time of its appointed members, is studying every town department. The committee has already produced highly detailed reports on the town’s police department and emergency response service, with extensive cooperation from department administrators.

During the first week of May, the ad-hoc fiscal committee submitted a list of questions to COA director Roger Wey through town administrator Bob Whritenour, requesting information about the COA financial structure and programs. The list of questions took up about one and a half pages.

In the nine weeks since receiving the request, the committee has not received any response.

After six weeks without response, the committee contacted Mr. Wey and offered him several options for providing the information. The committee invited Mr. Wey to its regular meeting, offering to gather the information during a question and answer session, then transcribe and compile the information for its analysis. Mr. Wey did not attend the meeting.

Mr. Wey said it has been difficult to provide information about the Council on Aging during the summer season. “This is an awfully busy time of the year,” Mr. Wey said. “I’m in the process of collecting it for them. They want to know about the grants we’ve received and different information about the center. A lot of it is in the annual report, everything is in the annual report.”

Mr. Wey said other town departments provided information to the ad-hoc subcommittee in the off season. He said he discussed the matter with Kathy Burton, chairman of the board of selectmen, and Bob Whritenour, town administrator.

“When I talked to Kathy and Bob, they understood,” Mr. Wey said. “As soon as I get the information, I’ll send it over to them.” He hopes to provide the information by August 1, he added.

Ms. Burton said she and Mr. Whritenour have encouraged Mr. Wey to provide the ad-hoc fiscal committee with the requested information as soon as possible. She said evaluation of the COA is a fairly simple, straightforward analysis.

“This is an ongoing effort, to find any efficiency and cost savings in each department,” Ms. Burton said. “It’s not like anyone is being singled out. Every department is going through this. It has been very helpful. If nothing else, it helps everyone understand what’s happening in some departments where there have been questions and confusion.”

The Oak Bluffs police and ambulance departments went through a detailed and far more complex evaluation earlier this year. In both cases, the ad-hoc fiscal committee noted prominently in the report that town officials and department personnel cooperated fully with all requests for information. Some recommendations made in the reports are already helping those departments run more efficiently, according to Ms. Burton.

Police chief Erik Blake and ambulance chief John Rose both offered effusive praise for the committee’s work in scrutinizing their department’s finances, policies, and structural organization.

The committee’s policy is to produce a draft of its report, and then have the department head review it and discuss any areas of disagreement, or point out mistakes, before presenting the report to selectmen.

Council politics

Meeting two days before Christmas in 2004, the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen hired Mr. Wey to become the COA director. At the time, Mr. Wey was chairman of the board of selectmen. He was also a county commissioner, and said he intended to continue on both boards while serving as the head of the town department.

The town counsel advised selectmen that Mr. Wey should file a financial disclosure form disclosing his financial interest in the council, that is, his salary, if he remained on the board of selectmen. Counsel advised Mr. Wey to give up his selectmen’s stipend, and not to vote on any matters pertaining to the COA.

In 2010, town meeting voters amended bylaws to prevent a town employee from serving on a board that oversees his or her department. The bylaws now say “no member of a town board or committee shall hold a paid position with the town which is answereable either directly or indirectly to the board or committee on which he or she serves.”

Mr. Wey did not seek reelection in 2009, after seven terms on the board of selectmen, but this past spring he ran unsuccessfully for the office after a three-year hiatus. The new bylaw would have required him to resign from the COA position if he had been elected.

By the numbers

The Council on Aging budget for the current fiscal year totals $208,482. By comparison, Edgartown’s annual COA budget is $248,438. Tisbury spends $171,358.

Using data from the 2010 U.S. census, Oak Bluffs spends $143 per resident age 55 or over. Edgartown spends $187, and Tisbury spends $132.

Mr. Wey earns $59,426 as director of the COA. Salaries for the assistant director and an outreach worker total $77,678.

The next largest expenditure listed in the budget approved by voters is office expenses, at $38,116.

According to the town report submitted by Mr. Wey, the COA received $3,000 in grants from local charities, and $6,931 form a state formula grant. Fundraisers brought in another $6,000, according to the report.

Among the COA services noted in the town report are incoming calls (1,920), outgoing calls (1,326), office visits (990), visits to client homes (119), and hospital visits (31).

The COA also provides fuel assistance to 129 people, and helps with transportation for trips to the post office, grocery stores, and drug stores.

The town report lists a number of monthly social and educational programs serving seniors, including bingo, legal clinics, holiday dinners, parties, and movies.

Weekly activities listed include morning coffee, nutritional lunches, quilting, knitting, bridge groups, chair caning, exercise classes, and computer instruction.

Many of the activities are organized or carried out by unpaid volunteers.