AYER — On June 5, selectmen voted to send the reclassification request of Assistant Treasurer Melisa Doig off to the Personnel Board for consideration.
On June 13, Treasurer Stephanie Gintner advised the Finance Committee in the same manner that she advised selectmen on June 5 – Doig’s new post and pay, if approved, may not be funded with the treasurer’s Town Meeting-approved budget.
Gintner provided committee members with a copy of her attorney’s June 4 letter advising the town’s attorney that Gintner intends to fund an assistant treasurer through her budget — be it Doig or a successor assistant treasurer. Any attempt to use her budget otherwise would be challenged in court, promised Gintner’s attorney, Daniel Gelb.
“Treasurer Gintner will seek judicial intervention if the Board of Selectmen does not act in conformance with the fiscal warrant by following all legal requirements associated with the use of funds allocated to the Treasurer’s Department,” wrote Gelb.
On June 5, selectmen also voted to delete the applicable 2003 reclassification process in favor of the older 1999 version that will permit selectmen, instead of the “appointing authority”, to decide whether to push reclassification requests to the Personnel Board.
Under the 2003 personnel policy, Gintner nixed Doig’s reclassification request to morph her job into one of a human resources director — a post that does not currently exist at Town Hall.
On June 5, selectmen voted to return to the 1999 personnel policy and to send Doig’s reclassification request to the selectmen-appointed Personnel Board for study. Each decision was punctuated by a split 3-2 selectmen vote with no debate permitted by Chairman Jim Fay.
The move is the latest chapter in the saga between selectmen and Gintner. In December, selectmen voted in closed-door session to move oversight of Doig away from Gintner (who, like the selectmen, is elected) to selectmen-appointed Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. Still, Doig and Gintner continue to work side-by-side as the sole employees in the Treasurer’s Office.
The dispute is “out in the open now” noted Ayer Finance Committee Chairman Scott Houde. Houde solicited his committee’s opinion on Gintner’s intention to “backfill” the position with a new employee if Doig is reclassified away into another post.
“The budget is as the budget is voted at Town Meeting,” said Houde. Since there is no added money in the selectmen’s budget to fund a new post, “I don’t think it (the budget) can be changed that dramatically.”
Pontbriand told the committee that the selectmen’s vote in favor of the 1999 personnel policy was a “reversion.”
“And when I say revert, that’s reverting back from the 2003 policy. This issue is still an issue yet to be resolved,” said Pontbriand.
When it next met, Pontbriand said the Personnel Board would likely first compare “several variables,” like comparable jobs and salaries for a human resources director in similarly sized communities. “That would take some time,” said Pontbriand. “It is the purview of the Personnel Board.”
“The Board of Selectmen and myself are aware of the larger issues and the concerns that Ms. Gintner has put forward,” said Pontbriand.
“I’d like to add,” said Gintner. “There’s more to this reclassification than what’s on the outside.”
“I realize a lot of this has been in executive session which we’re not privy to,” said Houde.
“A lot of history you can be privy to,” offered Gintner. “Back to September 2010 before the executive session even started.”
But the Finance Committee didn’t take her up on the offer for further detail.
Pontbriand read the signal, stating the Finance Committee’s concern was the “potential financial impact” of any reclassification. Pontbriand said competing issues are at play — the Personnel Board’s recommendation, untangling the financial impact of any reclassification, and then the impact, if any, that could have on the Treasurer’s budget.
“As I understand it, the assistant treasurer was moved from the Treasurer’s Department to the Board of Selectmen,” said Finance Committee member Michael Pattenden. “Now it’s being looked at as a possible change of title to do another job?”
Gintner said the contemplated post would be new and “would be created by the selectmen.”
“Presumably there was a need of a post of assistant treasurer,” said Pattenden. “At this time, there is no assistant treasurer?”
“There is,” explained Gintner.
“So if it was a proper and necessary position, then presumably that person needs to be replaced at some time,” said Pattenden.
Does town bylaw empower the treasurer to hire an assistant treasurer, asked Houde.
“Statute,” answered Selectman Pauline Conley.
“To clarify, there is still an assistant treasurer who continues to perform functions for the treasurer,” said Pontbriand. The selectmen’s decision was to assume “administrative oversight” of Doig was to automatically expire June 30 unless the board takes action to extend that oversight.
“So subsequently, the assistant treasurer has continued to report to the treasurer and to me administratively,” said Pontbriand. “The position remains filled and active.”
“She (Doig) was put under Robert’s supervision for day-to-day operations,” said Gintner. “Since then, the Board of Selectmen has increased her duties to create this new human resources department.” Gintner said such work, however, does not rise to the level of being “a day-to-day job. These are added duties they’ve given her.”
“As things play out over the next month or two months, we’re just watchful of any potential financial impact,” explained Houde of the Finance Committee’s role in the situation.
But Conley expanded on the implication of the selectmen’s vote. “So you’re fully aware of the financial impact of the June 5 vote of the change in the personnel policy back to 1999?”
Conley and Selectman Frank Maxant opposed the reversion to the 1999 policy. Conley served on the Personnel Board when it recommended, and selectmen approved, the 2003 reclassification policy. Conley said the reversion opens the flood gates for employees “who can now come straight to the town administrator and ask for their job to be reclassified.”
Conley said the 2003 policy was precisely crafted to have the “appointing authority” (like the Treasurer, Board of Assessors, Board of Health, Historical Commission, library trustees, Park Commissioners, Planning Board, tax collector and town clerk) make the initial decision as to whether or not to approve of a reclassification request before it moved onto the Personnel Board.
Conley said the personnel policy was changed “because every employee sought reclassification and the financial impact on the town was phenomenal.”