Oak Bluffs Council on Aging director faces further scrutiny

Oak Bluffs Council on Aging director faces further scrutiny

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COA director Roger Wey emphatically denied suggestions of wrongdoing with town department finances.

Roger Wey, the suspended director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging (COA), faces further scrutiny for his handling of agency accounts. On the advice of the town’s special labor counsel Jack Collins, Oak Bluffs selectmen Monday voted 4-0, with only Gail Barmakian abstaining, to hire an outside investigator to probe COA finances.

Mr. Wey has been on paid administrative leave since February 11, after selectmen, again acting on the advice of Mr. Collins, asked Oak Bluffs police to launch an investigation into questionable accounting practices in the department Mr. Wey oversees. Police on March 6 concluded that probe with a determination that probable cause did not currently exist to charge anyone with a criminal violation.

However, there is no indication that selectmen are prepared to ask Mr. Wey to reassume the the COA leadership any time soon. In a memo dated March 12 to the selectmen, Mr. Collins said the police report raised more questions than it answered.

In a telephone conversation Tuesday morning with The Times, Mr. Wey said he is considering legal action against the town.

At first, Oak Bluffs selectmen scheduled Monday night’s special meeting to review and vote on warrant articles for the annual town meeting on April 8. But a late addition to the agenda, “Report on Investigation of Council on Aging Director” turned a largely procedural evening into a highly charged affair.

Chairmen of the selectmen Walter Vail maintained that the investigation must remain transparent, and that the investigation must continue.

Chairmen of the selectmen Walter Vail maintained that the investigation must remain transparent, and that the investigation must continue. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

After the selectmen blessed the warrant, chairman Walter Vail presented the board with the update from Mr. Collins.

Ms. Barmakian and a vocal contingent of Mr. Wey’s supporters objected to making the document public, Mr. Vail was adamant.

“I don’t want it to appear that we’re hiding anything from the process,” he said, holding up Mr. Collins’s five-page memo, marked “confidential” in bold watermark. “I want it to be totally transparent. I want everyone here to know and everyone who’s watching, that we have a continuing investigation on the Council on Aging finances and Roger Wey. Mr. Collins has given his approval to make this public.”

Town administrator Robert Whritenour added that Mr. Collins had emailed his letter to the selectmen, thus making it a public document.

Further concerns

In a report dated March 6, 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.”

On Tuesday March 11, Mr. Wey stood up at the regularly scheduled selectmen’s meeting, police report in hand, and said he wanted to go back to work.

Selectmen said they had not yet received the police report. In his March 12 email to selectmen, Mr. Collins reviewed the police report and laid waste to any notion that Mr. Wey had been exonerated and that the investigation was over.

“While the police may feel that they have not yet obtained enough evidence to initiate a criminal prosecution, as discussed below, this may not be the case. They have indicated that the matter of their criminal investigation ‘is closed pending further information.’ They referred this back to the Board for further instructions. Whether PD or an outside investigator does the work from here on is up to the Board. Moreover, while I cannot predict the future, once the investigation resumes, they may have to re-think that position.

“Clearly there is ample evidence that funds have been mishandled for years by the Director, both personally and at his direction by others. I [sic] some cases this has involved, at a minimum, lack of record keeping. In others, it appears to have taken a form of diversion of town funds or monies that should have been town funds. A substantial number of customary records, bank statements and copies of checks are missing.

“The Town Accountant has reviewed documents supplied by the Director and a third party that the Director has used as a conduit for disbursing certain funds. These documents are what the Town Accountant politely describes as ‘sparse.’ Therefore, he concludes that, ‘due to this shortcoming, I cannot offer assurances as to the validity and therefore can place no reliance on any of the disbursements made from this account.’ The existence or number of checking accounts or other fund handling mechanisms is not clear. The Town Accountant has been able to identify nearly $24,000 that has passed through one such checking account since 2007.”

According to Mr. Collins, in addition to possible criminal charges, there is enough potential conflict of interest on Mr. Wey’s part to trigger an investigation by the state ethics commission.

In addition to the Quilt Fund, Mr.  Collins raised questions about the proceeds from the road races Mr. Wey organized in Oak Bluffs, and about the money Alcoholics Anonymous groups paid to use the COA for meetings.

In his memo, Mr. Collins memo listed inconsistencies that required further investigation:

  • Failure to comply with state laws concerning handling of municipal funds.
  • Missing record keeping
  • Town money not deposited in town treasury
  • Working with non-town employees to disburse what should be town funds
  • Using his governmental position for unauthorized purposes, violating the state’s conflict of interest law
  • Renting out town property without proper accounting, without complying with state public bidding laws and not depositing rents in town treasury, which Mr. Collins notes is a criminal offense when done by a town officer
  • Soliciting donations under false pretenses
  • Creating or sanctioning a corporation to further unlawful purposes
  • Inadequate accounting
  • Entering into unauthorized transactions

Presumption of innocence

Glenna Barkan, overseer of the Quilt Fund finances, made an emotional plea to selectmen Monday on Mr. Wey's behalf.

Glenna Barkan, overseer of the Quilt Fund finances, made an emotional plea to selectmen Monday on Mr. Wey’s behalf. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Mr. Wey has maintained that money from AA was in the form of checks made out to the Quilt Fund, which was overseen by Glenna Barkan. Ms. Barkan was on hand to express her support for Mr. Wey. She has steadfastly maintained that Quilt Fund money was deposited into the account she supervised, and that checks for individuals in need were written out directly to vendors.

“You say the town accountant discovered larceny,” Ms. Barkan said. “Is the town accountant capable of making that decision?”

Mr. Wey tried on several occasions to interject himself into the proceedings, but he got the gavel from Mr. Vail, who reminded him that he could only speak during public comment and only as a private citizen.

Mr. Vail moved to continue the investigation and to engage outside investigators to do so. Reading from the memo from Mr. Collins, Mr. Vail added, “In making this motion, I want to make clear that this is an investigation and the presumption of innocence remains.”

He added, also using language provided by counsel, “The director’s reputation should not be harmed by unfounded speculation,” Mr. Vail said, eliciting a collective groan of  Mr. Wey’s supporters.

“I feel compelled to mention to the selectmen that when the community development committee took it upon themselves to look into the workings of many of the town departments—police, highway, fire department, they got full cooperation and they issued reports to what they found,” finance committee chairman Steve Auerbach said to the selectmen. “They attempted the same inquiry with the Council on Aging and were unable to set up a time when Roger could meet with them and discuss the operations with the Council on Aging. I feel it’s germane to what is going on right now.”

Ms. Barmakian questioned the open ended expense of hiring outside investigators. She received no support from the other selectmen.

“We’re there every morning playing cards,” Dorothy Underwood said. ”We’re just outside his office and we make a lot of noise and he likes to hear us laugh. We’d like to see him in his office so he can see us enjoying ourselves.”

“We would too,” Mr. Vail said.

“Let’s get this cleared up,” selectman Mike Santoro said.

Mr. Wey will remain on paid administrative leave. According to Mr. Collins, Mr. Wey, by order of selectmen, may not enter the COA or remove files or other documents from the building and must cooperate in various ways with investigators, including furnishing pass codes and banking account information.

Topical thunder

Former selectman Kerry Scott called the proceedings "a witch hunt."

Former selectman Kerry Scott called the proceedings “a witch hunt.” — Photo by Ralph Stewart

“This whole thing makes me mad,” Mr. Vail said in the calm after the storm. “It makes me mad that we have to deal with something like this. We can’t just say, ‘it’s not a big problem.’ We have no choice, no choice, but to clean it up and make sure it doesn’t happen again. People say we should handle this in executive session, I don’t think the town would like that.”

Mr. Vail was not without his supporters, several of whom approached him after the meeting to commend him for giving the facts precedence over emotions.

“All this is nonsense. We know it’s a witch hunt,” Mr. Wey said in a telephone call with The Times shortly after the meeting. “They didn’t like the messenger, so they’re going to get another messenger. Let them do what they want to do. Everything was done in a manner that was appropriate. I was interviewed once by the police, they could have interviewed me as many times as they wanted to. I’ll spend the money to clear my name. This is my integrity.”

In a followup conversation Tuesday morning Mr. Wey said, “This is a big spin to get me to put up my arms and say ‘I quit.’ That’s never going to happen.”

Mr. Wey also said he is considering legal action. “I have to, it’s getting out of hand.”

Comments

  1. This is a travesty! Why was the discussion of this entire matter not begun in executive session, after duly notifying Mr. Wey? There’s an attorney on that board. Why did she not stop this? Roger’s rights have been stomped on, and his good name, muddied. Thank God I work for Edgartown.

    1. Under which exception allowed under the public meeting law do you see this being held in executive session?

      1. Under the first reason for an executive season. If the body in question is discussing the reputation, character, health, or any complaints or charges brought against an individual, that individual must be notified in writing at least 48 hours prior to the meeting and that individual has the choice of whether the session will be open or closed. As I said, Roger’s rights have been stomped on.

        1. Under the charges above giving Roger 48 hours to get rid of records would have not been a good idea. Roger’s rights being stomped on, the only stomping there is, is Roger stomping on Glenna Barkin to save himself. He has thrown her under the bus many times. She only wants to do good for the community, he knew diverting funds from the council would eventually catch up with him, now it has.

  2. Too many laws on the books. No one has a chance anymore to do good. Just disband COA and sell the building.

    1. Making a statement like (Just disband COA and sell the building) has got to be the dumbest thing I have read concerning this matter. Just to let you know OB has the largest senior population on the vineyard. At the center they do many things to enrich the lives of our seniors, you are obviously not one of them but with a little luck you may be one someday.

  3. You people bitch and complain when OB does something behind closed doors. You feel things behind closed doors are “swept under the rug” or “the good ole boy network is at play”. So when Vail does it in open session a small vocal majority of older people (COA attendees) and one of the good ole boys himself who’s under investigation scream , holler, rant and rave to get the board of selectman to back down. Now the COA threatens to sue. This is pathetic.

    I’ve always said if you’re not guilty of anything, be it criminal or being a bad manager, then you should cooperate and welcome the investigations. It’s not about any one person, it’s about the taxpayer as a whole.

    1. You are focusing on the dept that has the lowest budget.They probably cut corners to save. You should be focusing on depts that spend the most money. CPA fund for one. That fund is probably many times what COA gets.

      1. I am focusing on Oak Bluffs life in general. A call for transparency was the right call by the Selectman be it the smallest budgeted department to the largest one. The finance chairman this past summer asked for cooperation from Wey to discuss his budget, an exercise the fin com was doing with all departments. It’s funny how the smallest budgeted department couldn’t find the time to meet. It’s funny how the smallest budgeted department couldn’t take simple care in record keeping. It’s funny how the smallest department budget could be much larger if the money was being deposited in the correct accounts. Who ever heard of rents for a public building going into a fund run by private citizens? Departments that spend the most amount of money (I would assume the school-police-emt/fire department) have more than their share of people to rip apart their budgets and a town meeting process to cut and oversee.

        1. Thats what I mean by cutting corners to save time and money. Theres only 40 hours in work week ,cant spent 30 filling out paperwork. The larger depts have pencil pushers to do just that.

  4. why hide it? if he’s innocent it will be shown. if he’s guilty it will be shown. transparency = good.

  5. I have been waiting for this look see long before he was even a county commissioner. I think almost everyone is sick of the word transparency being abused and shredded. I think the majority of politicians have baggage and the longer they hold office and go up the food chain the more baggage they collect, the more teflon they think they become. I dont care if you are a selectman, county commissioner or a general.
    Nobody is above the law and they should welcome a look see to keep them in line and to keep their honor clean.
    Just saying wihile I still can.

      1. I think what he’s saying is, that if the President does not hold a good example, then why should anyone else act with integrity? Technically blame? Yes, but he didn’t directly say “it’s the President’s fault.” Boy this conversation is so familiar! It’s okay to blame Bush, but not Obama? Who are you?

    1. Only on the internet can an issue involving a small town’s Council on Aging quilt fund be turned around and blamed on Obama.

      Get real.

  6. Seems like Vail didn’t get what he wanted from the police so he wants to hire someone to get the results he prefers.

    OBPD doesn’t think there was crime, do the Board of Selectmen not trust their own police force?

    1. Reread the article. While no criminal intent was found, the bookkeeping is shoddy and nobody is sure where the money comes in and goes out. The town is still waiting for an accounting report from 2012, this is not a sign of a good administrator. This is why they want an outsider to go over the books. For those who don’t have a clue of what to do in this situation, Oak Bluffs followed proper procedure, you suspend the supervisor, keep them away from the records and other employees, and then go through the records. Roger is threatening to sue the town for caring about what he does or in this case doesn’t do (keeping records of the COA funds). His “rights” were never violated.

      1. Ellen Barken has a ledger listing all the transactions.What more do you want? Everything went into the quilt fund.

        1. Then why was the record-keeping politely described as sparse? How come his was the only department that couldn’t provide a financial statement in 2012?

          1. I think alot has to do with keeping recepients of the quilt fund anonymous. Its great they pay the company and not the individual. I dont think they can keep the individuals name secret if using state guide lines. They probably would want to know how much fuel was delivered and to whom it was delivered.

  7. I laugh when I read Mr. Collins use of the term “conflict of interest”. Mr. Collins enjoys the position of labor attorney for many of the island towns. He also enjoys the position of counsel to the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association AND he is hired as a special police officer for the Town of Chilmark. Conflict of interest? How can you be the town labor counsel, consultant to the Chief of Police and an employee at the same time? How much money has he made off of the taxpayers of Martha’s Vineyard and how much more does he need by continuing to spin these kinds of stories? Am I wrong in thinking that the people making these life and career ruining accusations should be above such behavior?

    Also, if you have ever taken a pen with you when you leave work or used the printer to print out an email from your personal email account or used the company phone for a call – you could be accused of misappropriating funds. The words are foreboding for seemingly innocent acts. Beware reader – make sure when you read these articles and listen to these remarks you hear everything.

    1. Yes, and in order to get the full story, people should really attend the meetings.

  8. It’s THE QUILT FUND PEOPLE!!!! Get a grip. You have no idea how wonderful it is that you have a program like this for needy families. I can’t believe this. There must be something else going on…perhaps someone vying for Mr. Wey’s job?? It wouldn’t be the first time town officials have gone after someone. By the way – who is Rose??? And what does she share with Mr. Vail?

    1. Rose is the assistant director of the senior center under Roger. I don’t think she shares anything with Mr. Vail any more then anyone else. She keeps the senior center active with meals, activities, paying bills at the center, she has been there keeping things running smoothly while Roger is on a paid taxpayer holiday while the selectman and legal council figure out which legal action to take. Stop in at the center and stay awhile you may like it.

      1. Correct, however she’s not keeping things running smoothly while Roger is on a Taxpayer’s Holiday, she’s been keeping things running smoothly and doing all the work ever since Roger was appointed to the position.