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Ayer selex reverse course, empowering board to reclassify town employees

Nashoba Publishing/Mary Arata
The Ayer selectmen met jointly with the Personnel Committee on May 22 and voted to place the power to consider reclassification of town employees with the selectmen rather than various Appointing Authorities. From the left foreground is Personnel Committee Chairman Kathleen O Connor. Clockwise is committee member Lisa White and Finance Committee liaison to the Personnel Committee John Kilcommins, selectman Pauline Conley, selectmen secretary Janet Lewis, Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand, Selectman Chairman Jim Fay, selectmen Frank Maxant, Gary Luca and Christopher Hillman.
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AYER – With the Assistant Treasurer waiting in the wings with her request for job reclassification, the Ayer Board of Selectmen voted Tuesday night on a split 3-2 vote to undo an April 2003 policy. In a joint meeting with the Personnel Committee, the selectmen voted to nullify the 2003 (re)classification policy which provided that an “Appointing Authority” “determines whether to approve or deny a request for reclassification.”

Instead, the selectmen decided that an earlier 1999 version of the reclassification procedure should control the reclassification process – placing the decision on whether to grant or deny a request in the hands of the selectmen vis-a-vis the board’s appointed Town Administrator.

Day-to-day supervision of Assistant Treasurer Melissa Doig was already unilaterally moved by the selectmen in closed door session on Dec. 15 away from Treasurer Stephanie Gintner and under Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand’s supervision, despite the fact that the Assistant Treasurer is appointed statutorily by the elected Treasurer.

Percolating in the background is a series of cross complaints between Gintner and some number of town employees and officials following selectmen Gary Luca’s public denouncement of Gintner at the Sept. 6 meeting in which Luca insinuated Gintner was possibly engaged in criminal activity in office.

Luca, Ayer’s Postmaster, initially ran against Gintner and two others in the 2010 race for the Treasurer’s post, but withdrew from the race before Election Day.

Town Counsel David Jenkins advised the selectmen in a letter dated May 22 that the 2003 policy controls, empowering the Appointing Authority, not the selectmen, to make reclassification requests.

“I have further reviewed the Minutes of the Board of Selectmen meeting on April 29, 2003, and at that time, there was a unanimous vote to adopt the 2003 version of the personnel policies,” wrote Jenkins. “It is my opinion that the 2003 version of the Personnel Policy Manual was adopted in conformity with the Bylaw and voted by the Selectmen.”

The Personnel Committee refused to include the 2003 version of the policy in a reprint of the Personnel Policy despite a vote of the selectmen last year to include the 2003 language.

“We now know that 2003 is a valid interpretation of our personnel manual,” said Selectmen Chairman Jim Fay. And while Fay initially stated the 2003 policy was “in effect and we have to abide by it,” Fay later in the evening voted against the 2003 language.

Personnel Committee Chairman Kathleen O’Connor said of the 2003 language, “never were we informed that was an approved policy” though later admitted the committee considered the 2003 policy under questioning by Fay.

Selectman Pauline Conley said she was on the Personnel Committee in 2003 when the language was adopted, which is how she had the 2003 language to share with the current Personnel Committee. Conley said the 2003 language was to become an attachment to the Personnel Policy and had always resided with the printed copy in the selectmen’s office. Furthermore, “we’ve operated under that policy” and reclassified several employees under the 2003 process.

Fay said the board’s vote on Tuesday would “throw out the 2003 policy. If we approve this motion, it does exactly that.”

Selectman Frank Maxant, typically a critic of town counsel, said Jenkins got it right. “Nothing has been done to make them [2003 amendments] invalid since then.”

“It will be valid by our vote,” said Fay. “I’m ready to call the vote.”

Luca said there have been other changes to the Personnel Policy beyond who makes reclassification recommendations. Furthermore, Luca said town counsel was off because “I don’t think the question was asked in the proper context.”

Personnel Committee member Lisa White says that in her five years on the board “for the reclassifications I’ve been involved with, we didn’t use the 2003 policy. Past practice is not 2003, at least in my experience.”

Conley and Maxant voted against the nullification of the 2003 policy.

At meeting end, Luca asked Fay to place Doig’s request for reclassification on the board’s next meeting agenda. Doig sought reclassification in January from Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. Pontbriand noted he brought the request to the board and “This board did not approve it at that time That’s where it laid.”

Luca pondered if Doig was still interested in the move and whether it was appropriate for Pontbriand to ask Doig.

“I dare say it does under the current classification policy,” said Fay. “We’ll revisit it at the next meeting.”

Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.

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