PEPPERELL — The hiring of an independent investigator to look into fraud charges has apparently stalled for the second time this month as the Board of Selectmen rejected the suggestion of Town Administrator Andrew MacLean.
After appearing 45 minutes late for Monday night’s open meeting, selectmen shelved Andrew MacLean’s choice of independent investigators.
On Dec. 17, 2018, the Board had directed, in a 2-1 vote, MacLean to search for, vet and ultimately hire an outside agency to look into fraud allegations from earlier last year.
He had been asked by Selectman Lisa Ferolito on Jan. 14 to provide more references on the proposed choice of independent investigators. HR Key Solutions of Wrentham was MacLean’s offering at that January 14 open meeting. But Ferolito, who first initiated the request for an independent investigation, requested more substantive references and letters of recommendation for the small firm. MacLean provided those references but Ferolito insisted that the hiring, and the investigation be forestalled.
The Board emerged from Executive Session nearly an hour late for the scheduled 7 p.m. meeting, which drew about 30 residents to the small conference room. That Executive Session included two unrelated items, collective bargaining of a labor union and unspecified investigation into misconduct.
Following the normal town announcements and updates, article 8.4 of actionable items was brought for discussion, where MacLean opened the topic by presenting the data that Ferolito requested, letters of recommendation in support of HR Key from its past clients.
“Can we suspend this until you’re off the board,” she said to fellow member Roland Nutter. “Since your wife is an employee of the town?” Nutter, who is married to Town Treasurer Deb Nutter, yielded to the request, saying only, “Sure.” Third member, Bill Greathead remained silent.
But residents were stymied as to why Ferolito, who first levied the fraud charges last spring then dismissed findings by internal entities before demanding an outside firm probe the matter, would wait until all boxes were checked in her list of criteria before finally asking for a suspension. “Why does it matter whether he is on the board or not?” one resident asked.
“We will wait until April,” Ferolito pushed back. That is when Nutter’s term expires. He will not seek re-election and no papers have been filed by anyone to run for the vacated seat.
“Which account is this coming out of?” the resident asked of the funding for the estimated $3,000 cost of hiring the investigative firm. It was suggested that the town’s legal budget would likely be the source of payment for the investigation.
According to town records, Ferolito levied charges in February 2018 against a former town employee who she says knowingly signed off on paperwork for employees who hadn’t worked a full week. According to Deb Nutter and MacLean, Ferolito is misinterpreting state’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) law as it applies to exempt town employees. “There have been multiple attempts to explain it to the board that there is no fraud here,” said MacLean.