AYER -- Town officials are at odds with the town's treasurer once again over a new payroll//benefits manager position the selectmen are promoting.
Last week, selectmen authorized a hiring process for the new position, about one month after Assistant Treasurer Melisa Doig left for a position in Groton.
But the unanimous vote met opposition from Treasurer Stephanie Gintner, who argued to keep an assistant treasurer that would be under her authority.
Massachusetts General Law allows a treasurer to appoint an assistant with the approval of selectmen. The new position would fall under the authority of selectmen.
At the meeting last week, Gintner argued that the law does not make the assistant treasurer position a "joint appointment," an idea she said came from town counsel.
"I believe that whatever he's telling you is basically what you all want to hear," she said, "what you want to happen rather than what the law is."
Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand countered by noting that the new payroll/benefits manager is an entirely new position and not a reclassification of the assistant treasurer job.
Even so, he asked the board if they would approve an assistant treasurer Gintner brought forward and the board said no.
The rough exchange was the latest in a dispute that began with personnel problems between Gintner and Doig that eventually led to a lawsuit Gintner has against the town.
In his memo to selectmen, Pontbriand argued that the "political tug-of-war" between the selectmen and treasurer over this issue has generated nothing but costs in legal fees and employee productivity.
He argued that the assistant treasurer position is a "historical anachronism" with a job description dating back to 1991.
One survey found that other Massachusetts communities with a workforce and budget similar to Ayer's have or are currently adopting a professional human-resources department, his memo reads.
"The current, outdated assistant treasurer position, which is largely clerical/data input in nature, does not meet the increasingly technical and legally required needs of the town," Pontbriand wrote in the memo.
Gintner said after the meeting that the position just "showed up" and was never discussed with her.
"I feel that the selectmen are overstepping their bounds, their authority on this as they have been in the treasurer's department for four years now," she said.
She is on a screening committee that will field candidates for the new position. Selectmen also authorized the committee last Tuesday, and includes Pontbriand, the town accountant, the vice chair of the Finance Committee and the fire chief.
A different selectmen board had previously rejected the reclassification of Doig's position to a payroll/benefits manager, citing financial concerns. The salary increased by 20 percent to a Grade 12 position, according to Pontbriand's memo.
But a new nonunion classification study from a third-party company lists the position as designed at a Grade 8, which ranges from a salary of $41,467 to $53,097.
The town's fiscal 2015 budget includes $49,154 for the assistant treasurer, according to figures from the town accountant. Pontbriand said the town will likely use money from the reserve fund to pay fund the position for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends in July.
Beyond that time, which counts as the next fiscal year, the town could transfer money from the reserve fund to pay for the position until the next Town Meeting in October, he said.
Massachusetts General Law allows reserve fund transfers for "extraordinary or unforeseen" spending. Doig's sudden resignation could constitute an unforeseen circumstance, Pontbriand explained in an interview.
Gintner said she had posted an assistant treasurer job opening on a bulletin board after Doig's departure.
But Pontbriand took it down, citing a number of issues with the posting in an email to Gintner on April 15.
"You do not have the unilateral authority to post and hire the position without Board of Selectmen consent/approval," he stated in the email, provided by Pontbriand himself.
Pontbriand also said in the email that the assistant treasurer is a joint appointment.
"The fact that you did not provide any professional courtesy in notifying myself and/or the Board of Selectmen is most concerning," he wrote.
One of Pontbriand's concerns, he said in his office last week, was that the board would not approve another assistant treasurer. He said he was trying to prevent an "ill-conceived, antiquated hiring process" that in the end would have resulted in the board voting against it.
Pontbriand said the two met in his office earlier in April and he advised that they wait until after town elections before making a decision on how to fill the position. Gintner did not object, he said.
But Gintner argues that she did not agree.
When she posted another job listing, Pontbriand sent her another email once again explaining his concerns. He warned that the position is not to be advertised externally, such as in a newspaper.
"If this position is advertised externally, I will instruct the town accountant NOT to authorize payment of such bill related to the unauthorized advertisement of this position," he wrote.
Finance Committee Chairman Scott Houde said the committee has not officially discussed the new position, but it is probably at the point where it needs to start looking at the benefits/payroll manager as a potential position in lieu of an assistant treasurer.
"We do recognize that we do need to look at the way we need to do our business, and some changes are necessary, and I think that the benefits role has evolved over the years," he said.
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