Former Oak Bluffs selectman Kerry Scott was the subject of a union grievance and a separate complaint from a police union filed earlier this year, in which town employees accused the elected official of acting in a bullying and demeaning manner. In one incident — a confrontation with a police officer over a dog call — police union leaders accused Ms. Scott of using the selectman’s office for undue influence.
The other incident — a demand for information from a board administrator — was perceived by the town employee as a direct threat to his job. These confrontations highlight the pressure town employees sometimes face when confronting elected officials, who may also be in a position to affect their employment status or work rules that may affect the employee.
Ms. Scott, who chose not to seek reelection this month, left the board of selectmen after two terms in office.
The boards of selectmen in Island towns act as police commissioners and oversee policy, negotiate contracts, and hire personnel.
In a letter dated February 13, addressed to Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake from the Oak Bluffs Police Officers Association, the police bargaining unit, Jeffrey Trudel, president, and James Morse, vice president, outlined their concerns over department policy with regard to animal calls and described an incident with Ms. Scott.
The Times obtained a copy of the letter from Michael Dutton, town administrator [see related story nearby], only after filing an appeal with the public records supervisor in the office of Secretary of State William Galvin.
The union letter begins with a discussion of department policy regarding police responsibility for animal control calls. The union officials said they agree that police should respond, along with the animal control officer, to calls of an emergency nature involving aggressive, dangerous or injured animals.
“There remains, however, a large number of non-emergency situations that occur involving animals,” the letter said. “… The union is concerned that this issue will progress into a slippery slope where over time a greater number of the ACO’s duties will be shifted to the department’s patrol officers.”
Police policy with regard to dog calls led to the incident with Ms. Scott and then to the police complaint.
On February 12, at 6:39 am, Ms. Scott called police to report a small pit bull on her porch, according to police reports. Department policy, designed to prioritize service, provides that police officers do not respond to report of unrestrained dogs, unless there is some danger to the public. Ms. Scott was advised of that policy, and according to the report, called that response unacceptable. She asked for an officer to call. The police report indicates an officer did respond, but the report does not include a narrative that describes what happened during the 10 minutes the officer was on the call.
In their letter, Mr. Trudel and Mr. Morse characterized the call to police.
“The content of this call was demeaning, unprofessional, and a potential violation of state ethics laws,” they wrote.
The letter said the responding officer, whose name is redacted in the copy provided to The Times, “explained the department’s response to these types of situations. Ms. Scott then became agitated, telling the officer that responding to dog calls was part of his job and demanded that something be done for her.”
The union’s letter said that complaints selectmen might have about police policy with regard to animal calls should be directed to Chief Blake or Mr. Dutton.
“Yelling at a member of the department who is following your orders and stating that the department’s response is ‘unacceptable’ or the ‘wrong answer’ is demeaning and rude,” the union officials said. “Asking ‘Do you know who I am?’ in conjunction with a demand for a response from the department not otherwise given to the public is, in the opinion of the union, an attempt to bully and exercise undue influence by virtue of her office.”
The union officials said the officer was aware that Ms. Scott was a selectman. They said her actions violated state ethics laws. The officials said they would file a formal complaint with the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission, should any further incidents of that kind occur.
In a telephone conversation with The Times, Chief Blake said the police officer’s response was in keeping with his directive for handling dog calls in the absence of a full time animal control officer. He said the details of this incident highlight the need to work through proper supervisory channels. Chief Blake said that speaking generally of his tenure as chief, he has had an excellent working relationship with the members of the board of selectmen, and there has been no effort to micromanage the department.
Ms. Scott’s behavior toward a town employee is also the subject of a formal harassment grievance filed by Adam Wilson, the town zoning administrator, on February 3, through his union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. That complaint remains unresolved. The Times has obtained a copy of the grievance.
The backdrop was a controversy over whether the Copeland Plan Review Committee, that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission established and Ms. Scott chaired, should be abolished in favor of the town’s Cottage City Historic District Commission. Mr. Wilson performs administrative functions for both boards.
In an attachment to his grievance, Mr. Wilson said that at 8:45 am, January 27, he received a telephone call from Ms. Scott. “She began the conversation by chastising me for attending a Martha’s Vineyard Commission meeting January 21 and speaking to the subject matter at hand about the Copeland Plan Review Committee,” he wrote. “She spoke in a bullying manner that talking at the meeting as the zoning administrator could potentially harm my employee status with the town.”
Mr. Wilson said that Ms. Scott demanded he produce all building permits referred to the two boards, a list of those not referred to the Copeland committee, and a determination of who decides whether a building permit application would be referred to her committee. “When I said it would take close to two weeks to gather all the information she requested, she said, ‘Well I guess then you’re not doing your job,’” Mr. Wilson wrote. “Ms. Scott’s tone of voice was accusatorial and demeaning. I was unable to finish the work assignments I had that day and went home feeling anguished that I was about to lose my job.”
In his grievance, Mr. Wilson asked for a written apology from Ms. Scott, along with a statement making it clear that any requests for work by a town employee “go through proper channels. In this case, through the town administrator, who works for the board of selectmen, the building inspector, who works under the direction of the town administrator, and the zoning administrator, who is supervised by the building inspector.”
Mr. Wilson told The Times that he has yet to receive an apology or the statement he requested, and his grievance remains pending.
Ms. Scott responds
In response to phone messages and e-mail requests from The Times to discuss the complaints made against her, Ms. Scott first replied by e-mail.
With regard to the police union letter, Ms. Scott wrote, “I don’t know anything about this.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, Ms. Scott called The Times. After reading a copy of the police union’s letter, she responded to it in a follow-up telephone conversation.
“Whoever wrote this is a lying sack of dirt,” Ms. Scott said. “There is absolutely no way did I ever say ‘do you know who I am.’ Not in six years have I ever played that card.”
Ms. Scott also disputed the letter’s description of her phone call to police.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say I was agitated,” Ms. Scott said. “I was aggravated. I’m on the telephone with the police officer and they are saying they can’t respond. I said ‘no, I understand from your chief that you will respond.’”
As for Mr. Wilson, Ms. Scott, in her first e-mailed response, wrote, “I understand I’m not at liberty to confirm or deny a grievance. I can tell you I made a request for information from the zoning administrator on January 27. I still have not received a response, which is a violation of the provisions of the public records law.”