COA director Roger Wey placed on paid administrative leave

COA director Roger Wey placed on paid administrative leave

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Police are investigating allegations of questionable accounting practices at the Oak Bluffs senior center.

Updated 4:30 pm Thursday, February 13, 2014

Oak Bluffs selectmen voted Tuesday to place Oak Bluffs Council on Aging (COA) director Roger Wey on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of a police investigation into questionable accounting practices in the department he oversees, which provides services for the town’s elderly population.

In a 3-1 vote, selectmen took action against Mr. Wey, a former selectmen, following a pained discussion of a memorandum addressed to them from town labor counsel John “Jack” Collins.

Roger Wey, during his 2012 bid for an eighth term as selectman.

File photo by Ralph Stewart

Roger Wey, during his 2012 bid for an eighth term as selectman.

In the memo dated February 7, Mr. Collins said, “The town accountant has concerns that money is being received and expended by the director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging in ways that appear to violate applicable Massachusetts General Laws. Reportedly, this involves proceeds of fundraising activities as well as private contributions that may have been deposited in bank accounts other than the town treasury.  Similarly, it appears that certain expenditures may have been made from such accounts by the director or at his direction. Preliminary indications are that the director may have in some cases established or at least controls said accounts.”

“With only a few exceptions,” Mr. Collins said, “all moneys received by a city, town or district officer or department must be paid upon their receipt into the municipal treasury. With three inapplicable exceptions, such amounts are not available to an officer or department without specific appropriation, in this case by the town meeting.”

In his memo, Mr. Collins outlined the best course of action. “In my opinion,” he said, “it would be appropriate for you to conduct or make arrangements for having an investigation conducted to determine if laws are being violated and if all monies have been properly accounted for in this case.”

Quilt check bounced

The issue came to light when an unidentified woman went to buy food at a local Stop & Shop with a check from the COA Quilt Fund, and the store declined the check.

The Quilt Fund raises energy assistance money for senior citizens by selling raffle tickets for handmade quilts. The checking account for the fund has been dormant since 2008.

“She came and complained to the town,” said chairman of the selectmen Walter Vail. “We didn’t know anything about it. There are checks being written against it, but there is no activity being monitored by our accountant.”

Mr. Vail noted that the check in question was signed by a person who was not an employee of the town of Oak Bluffs.

“At one time the town had an accounting record for the Quilt Fund, from fiscal ’05 through  ’08,” said Oak Bluffs town accountant Arthur Gallagher, who discovered the accounting irregularities and brought them to the attention of selectmen.

“There was a $300 balance in 2008. The account is still there, with $300 still in it. We don’t know why it was shut off or what checks were written against it.”

Mr. Gallagher told the selectmen that as he looked into the matter further, he discovered more instances where funds received by the COA were not turned over to the town.

Nickels and dimes

In his memo, sent prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, Mr. Collins advised selectmen how to proceed step by step prior to a vote to initiate an investigation by police. He recommended “discussion of council on aging director,” to selectmen as an agenda item, noting, “You are not required to conduct this in executive session, but might be able to do so if you were so inclined.”

Exercising his authority as chairman, Mr. Vail called for the discussion in open session, opening up a long debate over the proper course of action.  Gail Barmakian strongly opposed putting Mr. Wey on paid leave.

“I don’t have any sense of the scope of this,” she said. “Are we talking nickels and dimes?”

Ms. Barmakian, a lawyer, said, “When you are talking about Mass General Law, it is very strict, and sometimes people are lazy about this.”

Mr. Vail emphatically disagreed. “I think an independent source needs to look into this,” he said. “Who knows what might be uncovered that Roger might be unwilling to tell us?”

Mr. Vail added that an immediate, clean break was needed for a clean investigation. “If there is something bad going on, and he’s still there and he’s able to cover it up, we’ll never get to the bottom of it,” he said. “He gets paid while he’s on leave. It’s clean and the way it should be done. If he’s allowed to stay there, it could be bad for the town.”

Selectman Kathy Burton agreed with Mr. Vail. “I clearly think an investigation is necessary,” she said, adding that the quilters themselves were above reproach. “I sit with the quilters a lot, they’re good people and they make gorgeous quilts. The proceeds come from the raffle tickets and are for fuel assistance. If something’s wrong, we should fix it.”

Oak Bluffs police Chief Erik Blake said he had already spoken to Mr. Collins about the matter. He asked that if selectmen decided not to place Mr. Wey on administrative leave, that his detective be given time to interview him as soon as possible.

“You can move first thing in the morning,” Mr. Vail said.

Selectman Michael Santoro thought the matter could be investigated in a more informal basis.

Selectman Greg Coogan was also ambivalent about the proposed course of action. “This is a tough one,” he said. “What if an investigation is made and we find quilters are putting money into fuel assistance?”

“Then we give Roger back his keys,” said Mr. Vail.

“We’re a small town, and I believe everybody’s intentions are good, but if you had a business, this is how a business would handle it,” Ms. Burton said. “This is immediately what would happen in any business. I’m reluctant to not do what labor council has advised us, even if it feels like an extreme.”

“It feels like an atom bomb,” Ms. Barmakian said.

Expressing reluctance, Mr. Vail, Ms. Burton, and Mr. Coogan voted to put Mr. Wey on paid leave. Mr. Santoro abstained because he thought there was a lack of evidence. Ms. Barmakian expressed strong disagreement with the vote and maintained the matter could be dealt with by the selectmen.

“I want to make it clear that this is an investigation and the presumption of innocence remains,” Mr. Vail said at the conclusion of the proceedings.

In his memo, Mr. Collins provided the wording of a motion under which the board of selectmen could initiate an investigation by police “into whether the director of the Council on Aging has been properly handling and accounting for funds, has received funds that have not been deposited as required by law into the town treasury, and has expended or directed the expenditure of such funds without town meeting appropriation or as otherwise required by applicable laws.”

The motion stipulated that the police chief “shall be asked to assign one or more investigators and to produce a report to this board with their findings and recommendations.”

The motion also stressed, “this is an investigation, and the presumption of innocence remains.”

In a conversation with the Times on Wednesday, Mr. Vail said, “It could be that the funds were being used for good purposes to help people. We want to clarify this, the sooner the better. Roger can either help us or not; it’s up to him.”

Mr. Wey could not be reached for comment.

Earlier warnings

This is not the first time COA bookkeeping has raised questions. In 2012, a review by a committee charged with looking for more efficient ways to spend taxpayer money fell far behind schedule, because Mr. Wey had not provided information requested for the financial analysis.

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

But when the committee requested information about the COA financial structure and programs, it received little cooperation and despite multiple requests over a period of six weeks, no response.

At the time, Mr. Wey attributed the delay to the demands of the summer season and promised to provide the information at a later date. Mr. Wey never did, according to town administrator Robert Whritenour.

The Council on Aging budget for the current fiscal year is $217,739. Mr. Wey earns $62,487 in salary and longevity pay as director of the COA.

Christmas hire

Mr. Wey was well versed in town government when he was named COA director. Meeting two days before Christmas in 2004, the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen hired Mr. Wey. At the time, he 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 town bylaws to prevent a town employee from serving on a board that oversees his or her department. Mr. Wey did not seek reelection in 2009, after seven terms on the board of selectmen.

This article was updated to correct the vote by selectmen to place Mr. Wey on administrative leave. The vote was 3 to 1, with Mr. Vail, Mr. Coogan, and Ms. Burton voting yes, Ms. Barmakian voting no, and Mr. Santoro abstaining.

The original article published online also incorrectly reported that  Mr. Wey earns $81,162 as COA director. That budget figure is for all department salaries. Mr. Wey earns $62,487 in salary and longevity pay.

Comments

  1. Doesn’t the COA have an external auditor that looks at its finances every year.? Does not the town demand an audit for this organization.

  2. I am very disappointed in the reporting. Even more disappointed in the town leaders. Not sure why this could not have been handled in executive session. It seems like Vail and Burton wanted to publicly humiliate Wey. It really shows the character of those two elected officials.

    1. Wey, either way, has publicly embarrassed himself and has for years. Why not help out the town you live and make over 81 large in and provide documents to aid the ad hoc auditing group which did a tremendous job with their departmental departments.

      What’s with Santoro abstaining? You elect leaders to make the tough call, not sit while others make the decisions.

      1. He can’t vote on anything controversial he’s busy being all things to all people. He’s up for re election. Luckily for him there’s no real challengers. More of the same in oak bluffs.

    2. Why does not the reporter mention that Mr. Vail is a retired one-percenter? Why is his character and intentions not shaded by his past as a hatchet man for Merrill Lynch? Perhaps the next Occupy Wall Street demonstration might find a suitable place at Mr. Vail’s?

  3. From my knowledge , Mr. Wey is dedicated and honest, if any mistake was made, it was maybe a simple one: and by the by, ” could not be reached for comment” is always unfair on the part of the reporter.

    1. Just wondering what the story should say if they can’t reach the other side for comment? Seems to me it’s a factual statement.

  4. Oak Bluffs really seems to have a big problem here with people pushing, or voting on issiues that possibly, and actually do benefit them financially. I am not familiar with Mr. Wey, and he should be given all fairness. My recent interaction with The Harbor Committee illustrates the problem in Oak Bluffs. This comittee recomends, or in my case not, events for the harbor. There are two town department employees voting on “Mitigation” which in layman’s terms is more paid overtime for them. If you had a vote, would you agree on anything that gives you more $$? Also on the committee are people with business on the harbor who stand to gain $$ when an event is held there. The Committee clearly has a bias, and having public employees voting on giving themselves more overtime?? BTW are the town employees being paid while they are serving on this committee which is during mid day?? The selectmen take the Harbor committee recommendation as “Gold” when presented to them thereby embracing the bias.

    1. This is a small town overlap is impossible. I saw your presentation. I was for it when I walked in the room. It was clear the proposal wasn’t ready or even remotely presented properly. If you’re needing somewhere to point blame, look in the mirror. Roger is caught in an unfortunate situation that should not define his love and service of Oak bluffs. This is a witch hunt by our new mayor.

  5. Roger should have stuck to his lumber business. These should be all part time jobs, the budget is only 217k. Too many people on this island making full time jobs out of what should be part time.Theres only 15k people on this island good grief.

    1. Just to refine your information a little, the US census says something over 17K souls here. There are also, on any day of the year, thousands more nonresidents and visitors here, who don’t show up in a census.

      1. And when you count the illegal alien invasion, we have many, many thousands more.

  6. This could not have been handled in executive session because it is a possible CRIME and was reported by a citizen from what I understand!!!! Enough is covered up from the town politics to the White House!! There is no transparency anymore!!!

  7. ““““““` This could not have been handled in executive session because it is a possible CRIME and was reported by a citizen from what I understand!!!! Enough is covered up from the town politics to the White House!! There is no transparency anymore!!!

    1. Possible crime? So what? It’s also possibly NOT a crime, too. Either way, I’m not sure what your point is, “Guest,” but your premise isn’t valid. This phase of the proceedings should have been handled in executive session, like any other personnel matter (which is all that this is at the present time), and this premature stunt to embarrass Roger Wey doesn’t speak well of the selectmen.

    2. That’s what this town is known for, the good ole boy town. I am glad it was in open. Why should the town sweet everything under the rug. Steve Jenkinson is correct, why is it such a big decision for some to take action. If no action was taken you’d all be screaming “it’s the good ole boy network at work”.

      1. What does handling this in executive session have to do with “sweeping it under the rug”? Personnel matters are supposed to be handled in executive session.

        1. things get swept under the rug all the time in OB. This had nothing to do with his performance, just an investigation. Did they say how crappy of a job he did? No. Just that an investigation was started. not executive material worthy. if they talked about his character, I’d agree with you but they didn’t.

      2. @ Donaldjr — No one on this thread has suggested that no action be taken. Regarding whether this should’ve been handled in executive session, the Massachusetts General Laws, which govern the selectmen, CLEARLY provide that personnel matters involving reputation and potential criminal matters should be dealt with in executive session. I recognize that that approach doesn’t appeal to the lynch mob, but the law is the law.

  8. It doesn’t matter if it’s honest mistakes or an actual crime. Whether it’s a business or town department, when there’s something funny going on with the finances, you do the same thing. You take the person responsible out of the picture and off the premises while you go over the records with a fine-tooth comb. You don’t say “well, Bob’s a great guy, I’m sure it’s fine.”. I can’t believe it was such a big decision for some to take action.

    1. You sound like a Democrat: It’s the seriousness of the charge – rather than the lack of evidence – that warrants the witch hunt. Perhaps you might better look at the motives of Mr. Vail. Perhaps it is Mr. Vail who should be investigated.

      1. On paid leave while a third party makes sure everything is kosher is hardly a witch hunt, I know we’ve become gentler since the Salem days, but, your term is just hyperbole. You’re right about the lack of evidence, we’re apparently lacking a financial report from over a year ago for starters.
        As for pinning a political label on me because I think it sounded like a reasonable action to take when there’s any question of where a department’s funds are going ,that’s just plain silly. I find it more disturbing that you seem to have a problem with investigating, finding out the results, then deciding if it’s a crime, witch hunt, farce, or all of the above, before taking sides and lashing out at people.

        1. Fair enough. I take back the democrat remark not because it’s not true in the greater sense, but that it does not fit you. But Mr. Vail does seem on a ruthless purging jag these days, and someone should look into him. After all, he comes from Wall Street, hardly a bastion of ethics.

  9. I guess the question thats begging to be answered is what does stop and shop have to do with fuel assistance. If the fund is being used for stuff that it wasnt designed for than there is a problem.

  10. An interesting sidebar. I believe that some towns have “Friends of … ” charitable organizations set up to do this sort of fundraising and assistance to seniors. The Oak Bluff Town website on its Council on Aging page seems to indicate that OB has a “Friends of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging” but if you check on the IRS website it shows that this organization had its tax exempt status revoked automatically last year for failure to file its annual tax report for over three years in a row.

  11. A bit surprising that a dept. with a budget of 200K has a Dir. who makes 60+k annually. Nice work if you can get it………

  12. Seems like the other newspaper has a lot more information. Why is that? About two months ago I was told our Mayor had issue with Roger and there was an x on his back. Guess it was true!

    1. I just read the story in the other local newspaper, and it does have a lot more information. If that version of events is true — particularly that the COA was instructed by the Town years ago to put this paltry amount of money in a separate account — then this whole episode would seem to be nothing more than a good, old fashioned witch hunt. Obviously, there is a lot that we don’t know yet, but either way this should have been addressed discreetly in executive session at this phase of the inquiry.

      1. Witch Hunt is the name of the game in OB. Plant the seed and watch it grow to truth! Roger is fimiliar with this tactic over his many years of OB politics. His similar tactics of the past have come home to roost! Standby for more to come! Nothing new in oak bluffs

  13. I think it is about time the town looks into the fuel assistance program. What happened to the Turkey Trott money held each year for fuel assistance? How about the AA donation money given each week?? What happened to the endowment money given for fuel assistance?? It was reported that the quilting fund had $3000 for fuel assistance, why is that in a separate persons checking account?? Seems to me the whole fuel assistance program and it’s monies should have been a line item on the town budget, it would have kept things clean. There are standards by which someone can qualify for fuel assistance, it should not be up to a couple of people saying who get’s what.

  14. Once again, I shall try to phrase my comment so I am not deleted. But the substance of my thought heads to Mr. Vail. Perhaps someone should be investigating Walter Vail for his many purges of town employees.