Last week’s editorial took Ayer Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski to task for his (mis)handling of an internal HR issue. We linked the (in)action to the creation of a hostile work environment, at a minimum, for a former Planning Department employee Margaret Scarsdale.
Scarsdale resigned her program manager post before throwing her hat into the ring to seek the vacant economic development director position this past fall. In September, a dozen Ayer businessmen lobbied the selectmen, seeking assurances that Scarsdale would be given the vacant job because she provided such a close link between the businesses and Town Hall.
In the editorial, we linked Suhoski’s failure to discipline the only other Planning Department employee with a potential for tainting Scarsdale’s chances in securing the post. The unchecked employee allegedly acted wildly inappropriately towards Scarsdale and went undisciplined as a result and left the two to work side by side in their shared third floor offices atop Town Hall. Exacerbating matters is the fact that the other department employee is both a close friend of Suhoski’s who “caters” Suhoski’s daily lunches.
At the most, the toxic Town Hall tone may have helped nix Scarsdale’s chances to advance to the ranks of the final three candidates, to be interviewed publicly on Jan. 6, though she made the semifinalist list of the top 10.
We were copied on a series of responsive e-mails emanating from the selectmen’s office, to which we replied. The resulting e-mail chronology follows, starting with Suhoski’s Dec. 17 reaction to the editorial itself, provided to him a day before it came out in the Nashoba Publishing print editions on Friday, Dec. 18. – Kate Walsh, Editor
From: Shaun Suhoski (Town Administrator)
To: Jim Fay (selectman), Gary Luca (selectman), Nick Laggis (Industrial Development Finance Authority), Philip Berry (Ayer Business Alliance)
Cc: Carolyn McCreary (selectman), Connie Sullivan (selectman chairman) via Janet Lewis
Sent: Thursday, December 17,
Hello, I received today a copy of the Public Spirit that will hit newsstands tomorrow. There is an editorial concerning my role in the search process and whether my former role supervising two employees is or was “tainted” through a 10-year friendship I have with my former employee (Sue Provencher) and her family. I will have Janet make copies of same, or you can read all about it tomorrow.
Although I can assure each of you that I absolutely treat all town employees with equity, I am embarrassed if the misleading editorial in any way taints the other members of the screening committee. Making matters more complicated is that I cannot legally respond to the sweeping — and grossly mischaracterized — personnel items alluded to in the article.
With respect to some of the other inaccuracies I would remind the committee and selectmen that funding for the prior grant administrator’s position was NOT eliminated; the position was funded, and the incumbent resigned of her own volition.
The members of the screening committee sat around the table and we all looked each other in the eye while doing the deliberative work of screening many qualified candidates. I am very confident that the screening process has yielded the best candidates for the economic development director position.
I am sorry if the “poison pen” editorial causes any of you discomfort or embarrassment.
Shaun A. Suhoski
Ayer Town Administrator
From: Jim Fay (selectman)
To: Shaun Suhoski (Town Administrator)
Cc: Carolyn McCreary ; firstname.lastname@example.org ; Connie Sullivan via Janet Lewis ; Gary Luca (all selectmen); Nick Laggis (IDFA); Philip Berry (ABA)
Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2009
BOS (Board of Selectmen) – As Chair of the Screening committee let me assure the Board there was no discrimination, prejudice or favoritism applied in our decision making process. The findings of the Committee were unanimous in the selection of the final four.
The process was conducted according to the Mass Personnel Handbook 1995 edition.
Feel free to release this e-mail response to the Press.
From: Carolyn McCreary (selectman)
To: Kate Walsh, Editor, Nashoba Publishing
Jim’s comment for you.
Thank you for sharing your comment.
I have no doubt that significant effort has gone into finding a replacement for Mr. Ryan. Perhaps in the end you will truly select the best person for the job.
The problem is perception. Since few people are looking over your shoulder as you do what you do, judgments are made based on a variety of factors.
How professionally and respectfully was the process handled? Is there anything that suggests possible impropriety?
In this case, situations between certain Town Hall personnel do lend themselves to suspicion. There is not a perception of fair play in Town Hall. There is an atmosphere of gossip, favoritism and impropriety.
As long as that situation exists, shadows of doubt will be cast on the good work of good people. That’s unfortunate.
— Kate Walsh, Editor, Nashoba Publishing
On Monday, December 22, 2009, Suhoski wrote me, Walsh, stating, “Needless to say, I strongly disagree with the perspective of your opinion.”
As always, responses to my editorials, and responses to them, are welcome at:
ATTN: Editor, Nashoba Publishing, P.O. Box 362, Ayer, MA 014332. Or by e-mail: email@example.com.