Oak Bluffs selectmen now admit deal with former exec
When the Oak Bluffs selectmen announced former town administrator Casey Sharpe's resignation at a meeting in May, they misrepresented the true nature of the separation. Ms. Sharpe was actually terminated without cause, at her request, in a unanimous decision by the selectmen, chairman Duncan Ross said this week. Mr. Ross said the decision was made because of the possibility of litigation by Ms. Sharpe against the town. The board acted on the advice of the town's labor lawyer, Michael Gilman, Mr. Ross said.
"I felt it was the right thing to do, but that's all I can say," Mr. Ross said of the termination, which also triggered a clause in Ms. Sharpe's contract awarding her $76,876 for six months' salary, unused vacation time and sick pay.
Mr. Ross explained that in an executive session on May 9, before the board's public meeting, Ms. Sharpe submitted her resignation and asked to be terminated without cause.
"It was basically a two-edged sword," Mr. Ross said. "She resigned in saying that she wanted to be terminated without cause. At that particular time it didn't seem to make any difference to me whatsoever. All I was announcing to people was that Casey had resigned."
Although all five selectmen agreed to terminate Ms. Sharpe, two selectmen have recently criticized the terms of the separation, including what they describe as a generous severance package. Selectmen Kerry Scott and Roger Wey now claim ignorance of the details of what they agreed to on May 9.
Both Mr. Wey and Ms. Scott, who have often opposed and routinely criticized decisions made by their three fellow board members in the past, said they were shocked to learn about the severance package Ms. Sharpe received upon her dismissal.
For her part, Ms. Sharpe said on Wednesday in a voicemail message left in reply to a Times reporter's request for comment, "I am going to decline the opportunity to give another side to the issue of my contract or any other matters related to my employment. I don't think the press is the appropriate forum, and I'm sure the matters will all be resolved someday soon."
A copy of Ms. Sharpe's contract, obtained by The Times from current town administrator Michael Dutton, who was a selectmen at the time Ms. Sharpe's employment was ended, makes it clear that if the selectmen terminated Ms. Sharpe without cause, she would be paid "a lump sum cash payment equivalent to six (6) months salary, benefits and deferred compensation; all earned sick leave, vacation and all other benefits accrued as of the date of such termination."
Ms. Sharpe and Richard D. Combra signed her employment contract. Mr. Combra is no longer a selectman, but he was the chairman of the board who signed the contract on behalf of the town. Ms. Sharpe's term of employment under the agreement began on April 5, 2004, and included 25 paid vacation days, 15 paid sick days, and five paid personal days a year.
Mr. Ross said a copy of the contract was not present during the executive session when the decision was made, but "people had the opportunity to see her contract if they chose to do that."
Ms. Sharpe served as the town's executive secretary for two years and as its town administrator for almost four years. According to her contract, a four-fifths vote was needed to end her employment without cause.
At the time of her dismissal, the board consisted of chairman Ross, Mr. Dutton, Ms. Scott, Mr. Wey and Greg Coogan. Mr. Dutton resigned from the board two weeks later and was hired as town administrator in July.
Although she agreed to the terms at the time, Ms. Scott said this week that she felt pressured into agreeing with the chairman to terminate Ms. Sharpe.
"This was one time that nothing was to be gained by voting in opposition to my colleagues," Ms. Scott said. "I voted so that it would be unanimous. I went along with my colleagues on this one."
Ms. Scott said she was completely unaware of the financial implications of terminating Ms. Sharpe and that her questions to that effect were not answered in the executive session. "It should be up to the chairman to see that we are informed," she said.
Selectman Roger Wey said he too was unaware of the exact payout Ms. Sharpe would receive upon termination.
"It was never explained to us by the chairman or anybody at this meeting that she would get this, this and this for compensation," Mr. Wey said. "Everything kind of happened so fast, so I wasn't prepared. I should have probably asked for a copy of the contract."
Mr. Wey said he was unaware the executive session would be taking place until the day of the meeting.
Selectman Greg Coogan said that everyone on the board knew what was outlined in her contract.
"I don't know that we knew everything down to the exact penny...but we all knew what was in the contract," he said.
Mr. Ross agreed, saying the same information was made available to all the selectmen.
The announcement of Ms. Sharpe's resignation in May came as no surprise to several current and former town officials, who said it stemmed in part from what they described as repeated meddling in Ms. Sharpe's day-to-day work by some of the selectmen.
Mr. Ross confirmed at the time that friction with Ms. Scott played a part in Ms. Sharpe's decision to resign.
On numerous occasions, Ms. Scott has insisted that her relationship with Ms. Sharpe is a healthy one, and that she had nothing to do with her resignation.
Mr. Combra spoke to a Times reporter in May about the tension between Ms. Sharpe and Ms. Scott.
"I have been observing and have had conversations with people, and I am aware there has been a pretty deep division within the board of selectmen," said Mr. Combra. "Casey has unfortunately borne the brunt of it.... I'm not there on a daily basis, but I do hear from people and have seen some public behavior on the part of Ms. Scott, in particular, directed at Casey, that I think has been totally inappropriate, and that I'm sure contributed to her leaving."
Mr. Coogan echoed Mr. Combra's view this week. "The quality of life in town had changed dramatically and made it difficult for her to do her job. Unfortunately the situation grew unpalatable for her, and she took the buyout," he said. "She was a wonderful administrator, and had a contract that took care of her both working for us and in the case that she had to leave."