Michael Dutton out as Oak Bluffs town administrator

michael-dutton

The Oak Bluffs selectmen unanimously accepted the negotiated resignation of town administrator Michael Dutton, on Friday, July 8, following weeks of public and private criticism over his handling of the town’s finances.

Under the terms of the separation agreement and release, Mr. Dutton will resign on July 31, “in exchange for certain consideration.”

The town has agreed to pay Mr. Dutton $29,250 in severance pay, as well as $27,000 in accrued but unused vacation time and owed sick time.

Mr. Dutton signed the agreement before a special selectmen’s meeting Friday morning. He did not attend the meeting, most of which was held in executive session.

“Over the next few weeks, Mr. Dutton will be working with the board of selectmen and other town boards, committees and staff members to help assure a smooth transition,” the board wrote in a news release prepared in advance of the meeting. “This board will begin a search process for a new town administrator in the near future. It hopes to have an interim town manager in place as soon as possible.”

Selectman Walter Vail raised the possibility of redefining the town administrator’s job description.

“Maybe he has more power than he should have, versus selectmen,” Mr. Vail said. “It’s something that has been mentioned around.”

Following the short meeting to announce the resignation, chairman Kathy Burton declined further comment, on the advice of the board’s lawyer, she said.

Ms. Burton did say the situation has been “personally uncomfortable” for her. Selectmen Greg Coogan said, “It’s a sad day.”

Selectmen Vail, Gail Barmakian, and Mike Santoro, all declined further comment.

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, Mr. Dutton told The Times he would give town officials his full cooperation over the next two weeks.

“I’ve got 15 days left to transition and to clean up a lot of the work that needs to be done,” Mr. Dutton said. “I’ll continue to do that with the same level of professionalism I’ve shown in every component of my job.”

Mr. Dutton was hired as town administrator in 2006, after serving two terms as a selectmen.

Parsing parting

Though termed a resignation, Mr. Dutton’s departure was widely viewed as a dismissal by town leaders and longtime observers of local politics.

Priscilla Sylvia, a member of the town school committee, has been involved in town affairs since 1978. While acknowledging there were problems, she called the board’s action reprehensible.

“I wish I understood the goal of that board in forcing the resignation of Michael Dutton,” Ms. Sylvia said. “If we thought we were in trouble before, we’re in real trouble now.”

Finance and advisory committee chairman Steve Auerbach was somewhat puzzled by the developments.

“There were a lot of things that took place over the past five years that one could question,” Mr. Auerbach said in carefully measured words. “Doesn’t the town administrator serve at the behest of selectmen, and does what the selectmen want him to do? We had people in the town who were happy to find fault with the previous group [of selectmen] and with Michael.”

Former selectmen Kerry Scott, who clashed often with Mr. Dutton when she held office, and often since leaving the board, said she was saddened by Mr. Dutton’s departure.

“I think it’s better not to comment,” Ms. Scott said.