Oak Bluffs selectmen set new disciplinary process for employees

— File photo by Mae Deary

Oak Bluffs selectman at their Tuesday meeting established a new procedure for handling employee discipline. On the recommendation of interim town administrator Bob Whritenour, the board voted unanimously to create a three-member panel to review disciplinary complaints for town employees below the department head level.

“The employee would be entitled to a fair hearing,” Mr. Whritenour said. “It affords a degree of fairness and openness to the process. So often, there’s a lot of emotion and other issues that are tied up in that.”

Mr. Whritenour said that such a structure would make it less likely that a town decision on discipline would be overturned on appeal to various state agencies or courts.

He assured selectmen that the new disciplinary process is consistent with collective bargaining agreements.

A member of the board of selectmen, a member of the personnel committee, and a designee of the town administrator would make up the panel. The board voted to make selectman Walter Vail as its representative.

Chairman Kathy Burton said she favored the plan because it could prevent lawsuits against the town.

One example of costly litigation was the dismissal of Peter Martell from his post as fire investigator. Mr. Martell sued in Edgartown Superior Court, and won a judgement entitling him to $2,000 in back pay, and nearly $36,000 in attorney fees. The town spent more than $6,000 defending the lawsuit.

Also Tuesday, selectmen rejected the only bid submitted to build baseball fields on the land known as the Leonardo property. The town purchased the Pennsylvania Avenue property to expand its wastewater plant capacity. The annual town meeting approved $200,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for the baseball field project. After preliminary site work was completed, $154,542 remained for construction. The request for proposals issued earlier this year called for stripping surface soil, grading, creating a parking area, and finishing the fields with topsoil. The only bid submitted was for $205,773.

“We can’t do that, because we don’t have the money,” chairman Kathy Burton said.

The town planned to issue a separate request for proposal next year for grass and irrigation systems.

Mr. Whritenour said the town might reissue new specifications next spring. “We might attract more competition,” Mr. Whritenour said. “It’s nice that they submitted a bid, but it’s hardly competitive.”

The board also endorsed a proposal from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) to apply for a federal pre-disaster mitigation planning grant. MVC coastal planner Jo-Ann Taylor said she will apply for $12,000 in funds for each Island town, and the MVC will provide $4,000 in matching funds for each town.

The grant will give towns a plan to create systems and infrastructure to prevent damage from hurricanes, flooding, and other disasters.

Ms. Taylor said with a plan in place, towns can apply for grants to fund 75 percent of the cost of pre-disaster mitigation projects.

Selectmen ended their session with a discussion of goals and objectives for the coming year.

Among the primary goals discussed: complete unresolved recommendations from the town’s independent auditor; close out the fiscal year 2011 financial reports and accounting; create a plan and timetable for reducing the negative free cash account; restructure the town finance department and hire a town accountant; present a balanced fiscal year 2012 budget to voters; find new revenue, including the sale of town property, and payments in lieu of taxes; explore regional opportunities for cost cutting; hire a new town administrator; improve communication with town citizens, boards, and committees; require monthly updates from department heads; post all meeting notices and agendas on the town website; implement new health insurance reforms enacted by state lawmakers, and begin emergency repairs of erosion threatening East Chop Bluff.

Selectmen plan to revise and refine suggestions discussed, and incorporate others, to create a final list of goals and objectives.