Chilmark selectmen in battle over funding beach super’s training

Martina Mastromonico, longtime Chilmark beach superintendent, is the focus of a dispute over the cost of training. — File photo by Susan Safford

Chilmark selectmen found themselves in the middle of a storm this week over their recent decision to pay for lifeguard training for longtime beach superintendent Martina Mastromonico. The issue is a bylaw that prohibits the town from paying for professional development for a seasonal employee.

The issue of whether the town should pay for Ms. Mastromonico’s lifeguard training has simmered behind the scenes since the fall, but it recently boiled over at public meetings.

The beach committee wants Ms. Mastromonico to be certified as a lifeguard before this summer, and they want the town to pay for the courses.

But the human resources board is vehemently opposed. They cite a town bylaw they said prohibits the town from paying for professional development for a seasonal employee. The beach committee interprets that same bylaw differently.

There are also differing views on whether Ms. Mastromonico is strictly a seasonal employee. She works full time only in the summer, but she also works in the off-season to hire staff and maintain the beaches, among other things.

On the recommendation of the beach committee, selectmen voted unanimously on February 5 to pay for Ms. Mastromonico’s lifeguard certification training, estimated to cost around $700.

The human resources board bristled at the selectmen’s decision. The members met last week and threatened to resign en masse.

Selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday deliberated on whether to reverse their previous decision. Members of the beach committee attended the meeting. No members of the human resource board were present.

Selectman Bill Rossi said he attended the human resources meeting at which members threatened to resign. “I was a little surprised by their reaction,” he said. “I was thinking it was a big picture decision, but they were adamant that funding for professional development should not be given to seasonal employees.”

He speculated that human resource board members felt invalidated. “They spend a lot of time developing the bylaws only to have us override them — and I understand that,” he said.

Mr. Rossi suggested a new plan — that the town pay for the training and have Ms. Mastromonico pay $50 a week back starting later this year. He said he cleared it with the treasurer but has not heard back from the human resource board.

Ms. Mastromonico said she was okay with the new plan, but urged selectmen to make up their minds quickly. “I’ve gone back and forth on whether the town is going to pay or not, and I have lost months,” she said.

She argued that she was not a seasonal employee. “I am a department head and I don’t see how it can be a seasonal department head,” she said. “I am working now hiring people for the summer…that is required for the job in the big picture.”

But Mr. Rossi took a different view, arguing that it wasn’t too much work to send out emails and hire people in the off-season. “It’s a beach, in theory a beach is only open seasonally,” he said.

Judy Jardin, former town treasurer, noted the town does pay for surf training for seasonal lifeguards, and questioned why the officials were spending so much time debating $700 worth of training.

“Let the [beach] department use their budget and let them make their decision and be done with it…. All this [expletive deleted] and people threatening to resign over $700 is ridiculous,” Ms. Jardin said.

Selectman Warren Doty said he read the personal bylaw and did not agree that it prevented the town from paying for the lifeguard certification training.

“It doesn’t say that seasonal employees are exempt from professional development, it says these rights don’t pertain to seasonal employees, which is different from saying you can’t pay for professional development,” he said.

Kristen Maloney cited a memo from the Massachusetts Department of Labor stating that anyone who works more than 16 weeks, which apparently Ms. Mastromonico does, is not considered a seasonal employee.

Beach committee member Clarissa Allen said the beach committee, not the human resource board, is the one who should feel marginalized.

“It’s a real attempt — not intentional — to invalidate our existence as a committee that can deal with our own employees,” she said. “I think they should let us make our own decision about how we spend our money on our people.”

In the end selectmen agreed to let their previous vote to pay for the lifeguard certification stand while urging the human resource board and beach committee to meet in the near future to hash out some type of compromise.

“The [human resource board] is a very important board; so are you. It’s important for you two to get together,” said Jonathan Mayhew, chairman of the selectmen.

In other news, selectmen discussed a joint meeting last week between Chilmark, Aquinnah, and Wampanoag tribal officials regarding a long-term management plan for Menemsha Pond and an offer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to pay for a dredge project of Menemsha channel.

Executive secretary Tim Carroll said the town should meet with officials from Aquinnah and the tribe in the near future to pin down what type of dredge project they would like to see.

Selectmen agreed to serve as permitting sponsor for the Army Corps of Engineers for a project to dredge a channel from the jetties just past the West Basin. They agreed further discussions were needed before agreeing to sponsor a more extensive dredge project leading into Menemsha Pond.