Oak Bluffs selectman deepens rift
Kerry Scott slips copies of her letters under the door
This week news that Kerry Scott bypassed town government and her selectmen colleagues and contacted state officials in the Department of Revenue regarding the town's use of personal service contracts widened the gulf that has developed between her and some of her selectman colleagues.
In a letter dated May 14 and addressed to the state's Bureau of Municipal Finance Law, Ms. Scott listed 14 town employees and asked for guidance regarding which of them may be entitled to hold personal service contracts.
Although she sits as one of Oak Bluff's chief executives, Ms. Scott wrote that she was acting in her capacity as a concerned citizen. The letter indicated that copies had also been sent to her fellow selectmen, former town administrator Casey Sharpe, and the personnel committee.
Lydia Hill, manager of policy development and communications for the Department of Revenue (DOR), confirmed the receipt of Ms. Scott's letter. She said there is no DOR investigation under way. The role of the Bureau of Finance, she said, is to interpret and explain the wording of state laws, and advise town government on how to move forward.
This week town officials contacted by The Times said they had not received a copy of the letter and knew nothing of Ms. Scott's inquiry until a story appeared in the July 14 Vineyard Gazette claiming that the state was examining the contracts.
Duncan Ross, chairman of the selectmen, said it is unfortunate that Ms. Scott skirted the board on this matter and said he will raise the issue at the selectmen's meeting Tuesday.
Selectman Gregory Coogan said Ms. Scott had acted rudely. He said any concerns or overtures to the state should more properly have been raised with the entire board.
Roger Wey, who has often sided with Ms. Scott on political issues, said he has no problem with a colleague going outside of the board to make inquiries into town affairs. "She is allowed to research things on her own," Mr. Wey said. "As long as it doesn't have the name of the board attached to it, I really don't have a problem with it."
Municipalities may hire employees using either a contract negotiated with a bargaining unit or a personal services contract. The latter allows towns to employ people outside a union structure.
According to Casey Sharpe, who stepped down as town administrator last week, personal service contracts for the fire chief, police chief, town administrator, town accountant, treasurer, and finance director are provided for by law. Ms. Sharpe, who is a lawyer, said issuing them to other positions, such as the harbormaster in Oak Bluffs, may allow the town to retain highly qualified applicants and give them job security.
"They are extremely effective tools," Ms. Sharpe said.
In her letter, Ms. Scott wrote, "There is presently some discussion that both the building official and the zoning officer, now union positions, will be moved to Personal Services Contracts. I spoke about the matter with Lydia Hill on April 24, 2006, and she suggested that I ask you who is entitled to hold Personal Services Contracts.... While it would be difficult not to celebrate an employment context which attracts and retains well qualified and valued municipal employees, there is also the danger that this undermines the town's personnel policies."
Ms. Scott said the letter was an expression of her "individual concern" and did not represent the wishes or opinions of her colleagues.
Dropping the ball
In a series of conversations this week, Ms. Scott defended her actions and provided various explanations for why her letter was never received by her fellow board members.
Ms. Scott said she questions the legality of what she said is the large number of personal service contracts and insinuated a connection to Ms. Sharpe's resignation, but the selectman made no charges and provided no evidence of actual wrongdoing. She also expressed concern about the possible extension of contracts to more positions and said it could be seen as "union busting."
Ms. Scott said she decided to act independently of the board because her colleagues crafted many of the contracts: "Normally, things should be done as an entire board, but this was just exploratory. This wasn't doing anything about it."
Ms. Scott said she was first alerted to a possible problem concerning multiple non-union contracts when a Department of Revenue employee called her in April. Ms. Scott said the caller did not leave his name but told her the high number of contracts was extremely uncommon and should be questioned.
According to Ms. Hill, it would be very unusual for a state employee to call without identifying himself.
Before contacting Ms. Hill, Ms. Scott said she spoke with Ms. Sharpe and members of the personnel committee. John Lolley, a member of the personnel committee said this week that the committee has not spoken with Ms. Scott on this particular issue.
"My memory is very, very good, and if I don't recall something, it's more than likely it didn't happen," Ms. Sharpe said.
Ms. Scott said that after she sent her letter, she put 10 copies under Ms. Sharpe's door at the town hall for approval and distribution to the named officials. In a subsequent conversation, Ms. Scott said it was only three copies that she had left.
Ms. Sharpe said no letters were found under the door or anywhere else.
While sliding important documents under a town official's door is not the customary way town officials communicate with one another, Ms. Scott said it was early on a Monday morning, and she assumed Ms. Sharpe would retrieve them soon. "I spend maybe ten minutes a week in the town hall, so I just left them for her then," Ms. Scott explained. "I would never just put stuff in selectmen's boxes, because it has to be stamped in. I went through what I thought were the official channels."
Asked why she didn't confirm that the copies of the letter had been received - or add the issue to the selectmen's agenda at the next meeting - Ms. Scott said she figured it got "lost in the shuffle."
"I remember early on being a little bit surprised that nobody said one word to me about it," Ms. Scott said. "But a lot of times we just wait for stuff to percolate. You get the balls up in the air and wait for them to start coming down."
Personal service contracts
In May, Ms. Sharpe resigned as town administrator, after serving as the town's executive secretary for two years and as its town administrator for almost four years. At the time of her resignation, it was reported that Ms. Sharpe left her post partly due to friction with Ms. Scott.
Shortly after that announcement, Mr. Wey and Mimi Davisson, a member of the personnel committee, requested copies of the contracts from the town clerk for review.
"I'm wondering if this is why Casey stepped down," Ms. Scott speculated. "Was she feeling that these were a problem?"
Ms. Scott said her actions stem from her concern for the people who hold the personal service contracts, should there be irregularities. In the next breath, she returned to Ms. Sharpe.
"In Casey, we had an incredibly effective labor lawyer," Ms. Scott said. "I would imagine that for Casey, crafting these kinds of contracts would be something that she could do with her eyes closed and her hands tied behind her back. But is this something you can do in government? Maybe not."
When Ms. Sharpe announced her intention to resign, several close observers of town politics said she had grown increasingly weary of Ms. Scott's intrusions. For the most part, Ms. Sharpe has remained silent on the issue.
Speaking from her home this week, Ms. Sharpe said she would not be surprised if Oak Bluffs had more personal service contracts than other towns, but that it is an increasing trend.
Responding to Ms. Scott's insinuations, she said, "I'm not even going to dignify that with a comment. She's a very articulate person, but she's not nearly as smart as she thinks she is. She's something of a dilettante."