Blame for all
When the five Oak Bluffs selectmen (including Michael Dutton, a selectmen at the time and now the executive secretary) met in executive session with Casey Sharpe, their departing town administrator, to map out the terms of Ms. Sharpe's separation, the chief executives had several options.
Ms. Sharpe had made clear in a letter that she was determined to resign. She had requested that the terms of her departure be discussed in private. The selectmen could have simply accepted her resignation. But, on the advice of the town's labor counsel, they understood that the town faced some legal exposure if Ms. Sharpe's tenure ended that way.
The five selectmen chose instead to employ a strategy based on language in Ms. Sharpe's employment contract, which provided that if the selectmen discharged Ms. Sharpe without cause, she would be entitled to severance pay and compensation for earned benefits. The selectmen's calculation was that discharging Ms. Sharpe was likely to cost less in time, trouble, and dollars than accepting her resignation and with it the possibility of legal action by her against the town or its five chief executives. Plus, the selectmen, or at least a majority of them, believed that Ms. Sharpe had been a faithful and accomplished employee, so that ending her employment harmoniously was worth the nearly $80,000 it would cost.
Without question, that judgment was theirs to make, and it may very well have been a wise one.
What was unwise was the way they chose to characterize in public the nature of Ms. Sharpe's departure. Ms. Sharpe did not in fact resign. Advised of her determination to leave, the selectmen and Ms. Sharpe struck a deal that assured a reasonably amicable parting. Despite the actual nature of the separation, the selectmen elected to describe what had happened as a simple resignation. They misrepresented what had happened, and doing so they damaged their relationship with Oak Bluffs voters, who have a right to expect forthrightness and clarity.
Now, as is common these days, politicians often plead that they are constrained by their lawyers from talking about personnel or legal matters. And, that's often true. But, there is no prohibition against declining to comment at all. It's the strategy to be preferred over doing one thing and saying you've done another.
As to the self-serving nonsense from selectmen Roger Wey (who was a selectman when Ms. Sharpe's employment contract was consummated) and Kerry Scott about how they are shocked, shocked at the actual cost of the deal with Ms. Sharpe, voters will recognize it for the blame shifting that it is. Both of these selectmen were present when the deal was struck. Both kept their mouths shut when it was described as one thing even as they knew it was something else. Both say they weren't privy to the dollar cost of the Sharpe deal or to the details of the lawyer's advice. (If that's true, then they are simply shirkers who could have put themselves in the picture or refused to endorse the decision until all the details were revealed, down to the last cent. For whatever reason, they chose not to do so.) Ms. Scott, who prides herself as one who asks the difficult and unwelcome questions, says it was up to the board chairman to keep her informed. Oak Bluffs voters will recognize this for the dereliction that it is.
We suspect that the five selectmen decided reasonably enough to use a clause in Ms. Sharpe's contract to effect her separation. Had they described their decision straightforwardly, they would have nothing to regret.
In addition to the charge of lack of candor, the two backsliding selectmen, Ms. Scott and Mr. Wey, by first going along, then trying to erase their fingerprints from the deal and whining that their colleagues kept them in the dark, face the added charge of political pusillanimity.