SHIRLEY -- For 30 minutes on Jan. 25, the Police Department was without phone service.

The culprit turned up in a desk drawer just outside the town administrator's office -- an unpaid phone bill, amid a stack of unpaid bills, several overdue by months.

While the Emergency 911 line, provided by a statewide agency, was not affected, the business line outage underscored the need for the town to find and act on the unfinished business left by employees who have vacated their positions over the past couple of years.

In his report to the selectmen Monday night, Interim Town Administrator Travis Miller told the board that amid the turmoil from recent employee turn over, and with some positions still vacant, a stack of unpaid bills -- some months overdue -- had been found in a desk drawer outside the office he moved into earlier this month.

"It's frustrating...embarrassing, but this didn't happen overnight," he said. "Things were left undone for extended periods."

One of the unpaid bills in the stash was a Police Dept. phone bill so far in arrears the phone company cut off the police business line. The issue was immediately addressed, Miller said and service was restored that day.

Contacted this week, Police Chief Samuel Santiago said the phone shut-down occurred while he another officer were attending an off-site training class. It was short, he said, about 30 minutes.

But the selectmen aim to prevent a similar mishap in future, they said, in part by firming up policy and revisiting the town's internal mail delivery system.


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Selectman Debra Flagg said that every piece of incoming mail should be date-stamped on the envelope when it comes in before being turned over to the department it's addressed to. She asked for a run-through on how mail is dropped off and delivered now. Mostly, it comes to the Town Clerk's office first, she was told, and a clerk who works in town hall under the Senior Tax Workoff Program delivers it, as addressed.

The board agreed it's key to codify that system and ensure everybody's on the same page. Chairman Holly Haase said there would be a department meeting soon to that end.

As for the Police Dept.'s phone blackout, the chief said he'd been unaware that the bill was overdue. "I don't know who dropped the ball," Santiago said in answer to a reporter's question. Most of the department's bills, including utilities, come directly to the police station, he said, but some are addressed to town hall. Either way, those that come across his desk, he sends over to town hall, after confirming the charges and checking his budget balance to make sure they're covered, he said.

Santiago also said he regularly checks the designated mail slot at town hall to pick up any mail left there for him or his department. But ultimately, he is not the one who pays the bills.

"I don't control the purse strings," he said. "I think it goes to the town accountant."

Eventually, it ends up as a warrant, which the selectmen must approve for payout. "Those are the treasury warrants we sign" at board meetings, Haase said. When the police phone bill problem surfaced last week, an emergency warrant was prepared and the selectmen were called in to sign it.

As for the wooden mail slots, an array of open-front cubbies mounted on a wall in an isolated area by the back door, the selectmen debated moving them someplace else, adding covers and locks or even eliminating them.

With Miller now occupying the corner office, albeit temporarily, and an able, part-time assistant out front (Melissa Marcucci, a town hall "floater" who now works for several other departments and who the selectmen hope to free from her other obligations to become their full-time administrative assistant soon) the clerical chaos can hopefully be sorted out, with an eye to ensuring that overdue bills are cleared up and that bills are paid on time from now on.

"Documentation is key," Haase said.