Adam Wilson is leaving his job as the appointed Aquinnah town administrator, but he’s hoping to remain connected to the town as an elected member of the board of assessors.
Mr. Wilson, who has held the nearly-$90,000-per-year job with the town for more than six years, will pursue a job as outreach coordinator for Bay State Wind, a collaboration between DONG Energy Inc. and Eversource to build a wind farm 15 miles south of the Vineyard. The assessor post is unpaid.
Mr. Wilson is running against longtime incumbent assessor Michael Stutz, a political move that was already causing high-level drama in what was an otherwise quiet election season.
At one point, Mr. Stutz called in to a selectmen’s meeting on April 4, from South America, to question Mr. Wilson’s motives. Meanwhile, Angela Cywinski, the town’s paid assessor, has appeared at multiple selectmen’s meetings alleging that Mr. Wilson’s campaign has created an “untenable situation” at town hall.
It reached a feverish pitch at the selectmen’s meeting Monday, with Ms. Cywinski shouting at selectman Jim Newman over whether she posts her office hours — she says she does, Mr. Newman says she doesn’t.
“You’re out of order right now,” Mr. Newman said.
“No, you are out of order,” Ms. Cywinski responded.
Wilson is out as administrator
Later in that same meeting Monday, Mr. Wilson announced his resignation to selectmen. As of Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Wilson had not yet filed his official letter. In an email to The Times, he wrote that his contract calls for him to give six weeks’ notice, but he told the board he would stay on for 60 days if they needed. He’s waiting to hear what the board wants for notice.
“They’re probably going to want to look at the overall position,” he told The Times. “I’ve been talking to them about how this is a burnout job.” Mr. Wilson is the de facto receptionist at town hall, and also has to serve as administrator for several other town boards.
As outreach coordinator for the wind turbine project, Mr. Wilson said, he will oversee a community-benefit fund the company plans to establish on the Island.
Mr. Stutz challenged Mr. Wilson’s plan to run before he announced his resignation, because state law prohibits a town administrator from holding elected office.
“It’s a moot point,” Mr. Wilson told the Times Monday.
But the town election is May 10, and Mr. Wilson will remain as town administrator, at least through the middle of June.
Race is on
Mr. Wilson said he is running for the assessor job because as a year-round resident, he can devote the time needed to the board of assessors. He would also like to research the possibility of regionalizing assessing duties Island-wide, he said.
“The [board of assessors] has adopted a policy of being fiscal watchdogs for the town,” Mr. Wilson wrote in a prepared statement to the Times. That is the job of the finance committee, he said. Mr. Stutz told the Times that in his view, that is the prime motivation for Mr. Wilson running for elected office. Assessors raised questions in 2015 when Mr. Wilson and the town treasurer overspent the town budget by $50,000, he said. “They got mad and blamed the messenger,” he said.
Mr. Wilson has taken direct aim at Mr. Stutz’s residency, saying there is enough anecdotal evidence to show he spends more time in Boston and out of the country than he does in Aquinnah, making him unable to serve effectively.
“He’s not here enough to qualify to be a year-round resident,” Mr. Wilson said.
Mr. Stutz acknowledged spending time at a Boston apartment because of his job as a union arbitrator, as well as time in the Caribbean.
“I closely supervise the board of assessors from Aquinnah, and other places when I’m not there,” he said. “I live in Aquinnah. Aquinnah is my residence, my business residence, and it’s where my car is registered. It’s where I live.”
While Mr. Stutz said it might be better to have someone who is in town more often, it’s always been difficult to get and keep volunteers in the small Island town. In 2017, with so many electronic methods of meeting available, it’s no longer necessary: “I participate in meetings remotely,” he said.
Elected to appointed?
In an interview with the Times, Ms. Cywinski said Mr. Wilson’s run for office has made her a target. At the same time, the selectmen have proposed at town meeting a change from elected to appointed assessors. That change would also require a town vote, but it has been dropped from the ballot, because state law requires 60 days between town meeting agreement to make the change and a town election to do so.
Ms. Cywinski said she has felt harassed since she worked from home after having surgery, an arrangement that was approved by the board of assessors.
“It certainly is about me,” Ms. Cywinski told the Times, referring to the proposed change to an appointed board of assessors. “They want control.”
Ms. Cywinski did yeoman’s work keeping the department operating, Mr. Stutz said. “She could have taken [family medical leave],” he said.
On April 26, Ms. Cywinski sat in the audience and questioned the selectmen’s decision to put a question on the town meeting warrant changing assessors from elected to appointed.
“We were never given the courtesy that this was supposed to be [on the warrant],” Ms. Cywinski said. “I don’t understand why you want to replace the last certified member of the board of assessors, because this will not bring control to the selectmen over the assessors’ office. The assessors’ office is under the purview of the Department of Revenue.”
Selectmen aren’t looking for control, they’re looking for oversight, Juli Vanderhoop, chairman of the selectmen, said, according to a recording made by MVTV. “We want accountability coming out of this building,” she said.
This isn’t the first controversy over the assessing department. Ms. Cywinski was hired 10 years ago after a state audit pointed out significant problems in the town’s practices.
“I came in to correct the deficiencies,” she told the Times.
At an April 4 meeting, selectman Jim Newman said it was a lack of cooperation that first prompted selectmen to seek an appointed board of assessors. The change would give selectmen and the town administrator some oversight over the principal assessor, he said. He called it a “management decision.”
On Monday, Ms. Vanderhoop said selectmen would like to see assessors “getting together more often” at scheduled meetings.
Mr. Stutz said there is truth to Ms. Cywinski’s comments about being a target. “[Mr. Wilson] has a history of mistreating her,” he said, noting that Mr. Wilson attempted to reprimand her even though he’s not her direct supervisor.
That’s not true, Mr. Wilson said: “I don’t know where [Ms. Cywinski’s] getting her information from. I value her work experience and the talent level she brings to assessing.”
Mr. Wilson said he’s looking to lessen the burden on one paid employee in the assessing department. “I want to get on the assessing board to give it new direction,” he said.
Mr. Stutz disagreed. “It’s about silencing the whistleblowers,” he said. “We’re being criticized for doing our job.”
Reporter Cameron Machell contributed to this story.