AYER — Ayer Selectman Gary Luca sent out a terse e-mail to fellow selectmen and new Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand, challenging the actions of Pontbriand and Selectmen Chairman Rick Gilles, who signed a three-year insurance policy on the town’s behalf without first putting the issue before the full Board of Selectmen.
The matter came to light for the full selectmen via an e-mail from Pontbriand to the Board dated Aug. 27. In it, Pontbriand informs the selectmen, at Gilles’ request, that “we had two time-sensitive documents that required signature by the BOS Chair regarding the Town of Ayer’s Pollution Liability Insurance.” The insurance policy that protects the town regarding the hauling of sewer sludge from the Ayer DPW plant to Fitchburg lapsed Aug. 24, Pontbriand wrote.
Pontbriand said the bad news of the gap in coverage brought with it good news, however. Cabot Insurance Agency handles the town’s insurance policy on the sludge trucking with the Massachusetts Interlocal Insurance Association (MIIA), which had costs $10,000 a year. It could be renewed for a three-year term for $17,700, resulting in a savings of $12,300.
Pontbriand said he consulted with DPW Superintendent Dan Nason and Town Accountant Lisa Gabree and “both agreed that it was a good savings for the town. I then consulted the Chair for his signature so that we would have pollution coverage — as it had expired on Aug. 24 – and at this new valued price.”
Pontbriand concluded his e-mail by stating “this matter’s time sensitivity required immediate action and could not wait until the BOS reconvened on September 7th.” The town trucks two-three loads of wastewater sludge to Fitchburg daily, Pontbriand said.
In his e-mail response of Aug. 28, Luca blasted Pontbriand with copies to all involved. “I fully understand the importance of renewing the insurance, but I find it highly offensive that Chairman Gilles would for the third time make a decision without the full board meeting and deciding the merits of a particular issue. Why do we have a board when we have a chair that makes all the decisions for us and for you to take direction from the chair directly is dead wrong,” Luca said.
“Any decision affecting the town and its finances needs to be discussed and voted by the WHOLE board and not one individual,” Luca wrote, his own emphasis provided. Luca requested the matter be placed on the Sept. 7 meeting agenda “to discuss how we are supposed to operate in the future. The Chair is taking too many liberties without direction from the board and I respectfully request that it ceases immediately.”
Luca requested that town counsel be asked to inform the selectmen on the legality of a contract signed by Gilles on behalf of the selectmen before the board collectively sanctioned the new insurance policy.
Pontbriand answered the group via e-mail on Aug. 30. He indicated that he “was concerned that the Town would receive such ‘last minute notice’ about the expiration of an insurance policy.” Pontbriand said Cabot Insurance Agent Susan Nadil indicated that on July 27, 2010, she’d e-mailed the policy renewal to interim Town Administrator Jeff Ritter. Ritter left the office officially on Friday, July 30. Pontbriand assumed the town administrator post the next business day, Monday, Aug. 2.
Pontbriand said that in contacting Gilles for signatures, he “explained the situation stating that the BOS would have to ratify the signature and policy at its Sept. 7 meeting.” Pontbriand said Gilles “concurred and signed the two documents,” which were immediately faxed to the company, restoring coverage and locking in the lower premium rate. Pontbriand explained he then moved to notify the whole board of the events.
“With all due respect, I did not intend to circumvent the BOS. I felt that the town needed Auto Pollution Liability Insurance and that the added benefit of a cost savings of $12,300 for three years of coverage was in the town’s best interest. I was concerned that the logistics involved to set up an emergency meeting of the BOS on such short notice for this item would be problematic,” Pontbriand said.
Meetings of municipal boards require 48-hour advance notice, excluding weekends and holidays, unless sufficient emergency circumstances exist.
“The actions of the TA and the Chair have not jeopardized the BOS or the Town. They were emergency measures to maintain our insurance coverage for our wastewater sludge operation at a savings of $12,300 to the Town,” Pontbriand said. He concluded by stating the request for ratification of this policy will be on the selectmen’s Sept. 7 agenda under the Town Administrator’s Report.
“Thank you for your time, understanding, and consideration,” Pontbriand signed off.
E-mail and voicemail messages for comment were placed with Gilles on Wednesday.