As a somewhat routine Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting wound down Tuesday evening, suspended Council on Aging (COA) director and former selectman Roger Wey put a charge in the proceedings when he stood up during the public comment portion of the session and demanded to know when he was going to be reinstated by the selectmen.
“My understanding is that the investigation was completed last Thursday and given to the board last Friday,” he said, waving a copy of the police report. “I want to go back to work.”
Town administrator Robert Whritenour said he didn’t have the police report. Selectman Gail Barmakian, who had shortly before inquired about the status of the investigation, appeared dumbfounded, saying she had no knowledge the report had been completed. As of Wednesday afternoon, she said she still didn’t have a copy of the report. Neither did selectmen Greg Coogan or Kathy Burton. Selectman Michael Santoro did not respond to a Times inquiry. Chairman Walter Vail is out of town and was not at the meeting.
The report, written by Oak Bluffs police detective Nicholas Curelli, concluded, “After reviewing the matter with the Attorney General’s office, I concurred with them on 03-05-14 that probable cause does not currently exist to charge anyone with a criminal violation. This matter is closed pending further information and will be referred to the board of selectmen.”
“There was nothing there, there never was anything,” said Mr. Wey in an interview with the Times. “After 30 years of public service, there’s no reason I should have been treated this way. This all could have been cleared up if they’d asked me to come in and talk to them face to face. It could have been a simple matter.”
Mr. Wey said he was most upset at the distress the investigation has caused Quilt Fund manager Glenna Barkan. “The sad part of this is that you have an 87-year-old woman who’s only trying to help people, and she has to go through the trauma of all this. It was all so unnecessary.”
“This whole thing has made me exhausted,” Ms. Barkan said in a telephone call with The Times. “I was going to go to the selectmen’s meeting, but I figured I’d burst into tears. We knew it wasn’t a criminal case. Roger’s been so good to us, and he’s done so much for people.”
On February 11, the selectmen voted to place Mr. Wey on paid administrative leave. In a 3-1 vote, selectmen took action against Mr. Wey, following a pained discussion of a memorandum addressed to them from town labor counsel John “Jack” Collins. Mr. Wey was told not to communicate with COA staff. He was also prohibited from entering the COA building, and his computer was confiscated.
The issue first 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. Upon further investigation, town accountant Arthur Gallagher found other irregularities with Quilt Fund accounting and other fundraising activities connected to the COA.
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. It is still not known why the check was refused at the Stop & Shop when the dormant account had enough in it to cover the amount.
The core of the issue is whether Quilt Fund finances come under town purview and should be run through town books. Mr. Wey contends they do not.
In his interview with the police, after waiving his Miranda rights, Mr. Wey said the fund was not under town purview because the quilters came from all over the Island and residents from all six Island towns receive assistance from the fund. Furthermore, he said that the fund was removed from town oversight, at the recommendation of now deceased town treasurer Paul Manzi, who advised him that privatizing the account would cut down on time-consuming bureaucratic paperwork when someone was in urgent need.
Ms. Barkan said that she received the same advice from Mr. Manzi. She added that former town administrator Casey Sharp, whose term ended in 2006, also gave her written permission to manage the Quilt Fund finances. Ms. Barkan said the police, who visited her home twice during the investigation, have possession of the letter.
While the report finds no cause to charge Mr. Wey with criminal wrongdoing, it does highlight historically questionable accounting procedures at the COA.
Mr. Gallagher has raised questions about Mr. Wey’s handling of the proceeds from fundraising road races he organizes in Oak Bluffs, proceeds which Mr. Gallagher said were deposited into the Quilt Fund for Fuel Assistance in the Edgartown National Bank.
Mr. Gallagher also showed police a check for $2,000 from the Martha’s Vineyard Permanent Endowment Fund to the COA for FY 2014 that was not deposited in the town treasury.
According to the police report, when investigators spoke to COA assistant director Rose Cogliano, she said she had been aware for some time that funds generated from the Quilt Fund were deposited into Edgartown National, as opposed to a town account. Mr. Wey said payments from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to use COA buildings for meetings were made payable to the Quilt Fund.
Oak Bluffs Council on Aging (OBCA) outreach director Susan Von Steiger told police that requests for assistance from the COA went directly to her or to Mr. Wey. After evaluating the request, they would instruct Ms. Barkan to write a check directly to the vendor, not an individual. She also said she was unaware of the money donated by collections from AA meetings.
Initially, Ms. Von Steiger did not cooperate with the police when she was asked to turn over documents related to the Quilt Fund. Police noted in their report that it took a call to town administrator Robert Whritenour to get her to comply.