AYER — To make way for the annual Ayer Town Hall employee potluck holiday party, the Ayer Board of Selectmen convened in special session in Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand’s office Thursday, Dec. 16.
Across the hallway, Town Treasurer Stephanie Gintner locked up her office and walked down the hall to the lunch-hour party, despite the fact that Pontbriand said he advised her to be present to explain her request made to selectmen the day before.
Because of Gintner’s late request, the matter did not appear on the selectmen’s meeting notice, posted at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting as required under the Open Meeting Law. The law asks town boards to list all reasonably anticipated discussion topics in advance of meetings.
Due to the eleventh hour request for the selectmen’s consideration, and the fact that Gintner failed to appear before them to explain the matter, selectmen opted to pass over Gintner’s request for a signature on an apparently mandatory document for employees’ health benefits.
Selectman Jim Fay said he talked to Gintner separately before the meeting.
“I don’t think we can not sign the document…It’s federally mandated.”
But Selectmen Chairman Rick Gilles, responding to recent concerns raised by the board, said the request was “not on this agenda” and “according to our last meeting, we’re trying not to do this.”
Fay said it was his understanding that the document needed to be signed by Jan. 1 and was retroactive to March 2010. Selectmen were not to meet again until Jan. 4.
“This is our last meeting. We need to get it off the counter and vote on it.”
“Can I ask what we’re talking about?” said Selectman Gary Luca.
Selectmen Frank Maxant said he, too, was not briefed on the issue.
Under the town’s enrollment in the Minuteman Health insurance collaborative, Pontbriand said there were two “largely procedural changes” to Section 125 of the plan. But more than that, Pontbriand said he didn’t know the details and had specifically advised Gintner to be present for the meeting and warned that selectmen are not considering items that are not on the agenda ahead of time.
“I stated to her she could come to the meeting today and ask for consideration,” Pontbriand said. Pontbriand said Gintner responded that the paperwork simply needed selectmen’s signature.
“And she didn’t want to come and explain?” asked Luca.
“Right. I invited her to,” answered Pontbriand. Pontbriand said emergency situations aside, matters that require selectmen’s authorization should be presented to the full board for consideration.
Selectman Frank Maxant said he distinguishes between “strictly ministerial stuff with no decision to be made” but only after the issue appears on an agenda and is heard at an open meeting.
“But over the years I’ve seen an ‘Oh well, that was a deadline so sign it a week later.’ Is this one of these instances or are people’s health benefits at risk? Maybe I should knock on that next door and ask.”
“Why does this have to be acted on now? Did this just come before the treasurer? Has she known about this for a while?” Luca asked to no one in particular. “I’d hate to make anybody not eligible.”
But Luca added, “Personally, I’m prepared to make a stand that if somebody’s going to get something done, it’s not going to be with a minute’s notice. I want them before me. If someone wants to call a meeting on Dec. 31, I’m available.”
Maxant agreed another meeting could be held before New Year’s Day.
“We can all show each other our Christmas ties if the treasurer tells us it’s important enough to be an emergency.”
Otherwise, the request stands as an issue to be addressed at selectmen’s Jan. 4 meeting. The vote was unanimous — 4-0, with Carolyn McCreary absent.
In other selectmen business, the group agreed to restart regular review at selectmen’s meetings of the payroll warrant.
“We’ve yet, in all my years, have at a meeting discussed payroll,” said Fay. “It sounds ministerial but there’s payroll with three signatures and no one’s voted on it.”
Gilles agreed and said, “I think we should have flash reports at least once a month,” from department heads.
“I don’t think any of us can understand that stack of paper (the warrant book) without a summary report.”
Luca seemed miffed that a machinery purchase for the Police Department was placed before selectmen for a vote, yet the necessary software purchase was already approved in a prior signed warrant.
“If the machine got disapproved, why would we buy software?” said Fay.
“What else is in there that I missed?” stressed Luca.
Fay said that with tight fiscal times in the coming year, “This year, more than most, we might do this for a while and make sure that we’re spending our money wisely.”
Selectmen approved the call for flash reports and a regular review by the group of the warrant on a 3-0 vote, with McCreary absent and Maxant abstaining.