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Water board leaks dissent on filling job.

Byline: Debbie LaPlaca

CHARLTON - The Water-Sewer Commission imploded Monday night when Chairman James McIntire accused members John W. Elliott Sr., Paul E. Gagner and Cheryl McKissick of holding secret meetings and conspiring to stack votes.

"Frankly I don't trust the three of you. I think there is motive behind what you are doing here," Mr. McIntire told the three other members.

"A lot of things have transpired in the last three weeks that make me feel uncomfortable with the new members of this board. Meetings are being held in secret," he said.

Mr. McIntire did not offer evidence of secret meetings. He leveled the charges when the three commissioners voted in unison on an issue they could not reach an agreement on last week.

In October 2005, Commissioner Sandra Dam was appointed to the role of interim plant superintendent when the board fired its superintendent. Unable to find a suitable replacement, the commission chose to hire an outside firm to operate the plant. The firm negated the need for a credentialed superintendent, leading commissioners to develop an administrative role at a reduced salary. The new water-sewer administrator position was approved by voters at the May town meeting for 32 hours per week at $18 to $25 per hour, plus benefits.

With the two-year anniversary of the interim appointment approaching, commissioners last week grappled with how to hire the administrator. Ms. Dam was asked to leave the room when Mr. McIntire recommended the board move to eliminate the interim role by either advertising the administrator position, or offering it directly to Ms. Dam.

Mr. Elliot sought to scrap the new role and rewrite the job description. Ms. McKissick made a motion to advertise superintendent and administrator positions and let the quality of the applicants decide who the board will hire. Both were concerned about Ms. Dam serving as a commissioner and employee. All motions failed and with the impasse, the decision was tabled last week.

But Monday night, Ms. Dam opened the topic by stating, "I will not give up my voice on the commission, if that is the only way this commission wishes to consider me for future employment."

She addressed the ethics issue by reminding the board of a bylaw passed by voters in 1998 permitting a commissioner to serve as both, and noted one did just that for six years. She said the commission sought and received a favorable opinion from the state Ethics Commission and legal counsel before her appointment.

Mr. Elliot, Mr. Gagner and Ms. McKissick voted to abolish the interim role and advertise the administrator position with a prerequisite that if Ms. Dam is hired for the position, she must resign as a commissioner. Mr. McIntire opposed and Ms. Dam abstained.

Mr. McIntire balked at the caveat and said he suspected an attempt by the three members to force Ms. Dam's resignation as commissioner, only to hire and then fire her.

"I think there are serious ethics issues going on here. I think the voters need to know what is going on," he said.

The contentious meeting then turned to another personnel issue: Mr. McIntire accused Mr. Elliott of bullying an employee.

"The department assistant has applied for another position," Ms. Dam informed the board of Nancy Shields-Swindell's decision to apply for a lateral position in the town collector's office.

"She has turned this office around," Ms. Dam said adding, "I'm a little distressed by the fact that she feels the commission does not value her position here because of some things that have happened."

Mr. Elliot moved to continue discussion in executive session, but Ms. Dam informed the board that unless it seeks to discipline, dismiss or hear complaints about the employee, the members must remain in open session, which they did.

Offering an explanation for Ms. Shields-Swindell's decision, Mr. McIntire said, "She feels beat up upon by this new commission and, in my opinion, it's completely unacceptable."

When Mr. Elliot asked for an example, Mr. McIntire said to him, "You are abrupt and you can be mean and mean-spirited ..."

The discussion ended when Mr. Elliot, Mr. Gagner and Ms. McKissick voted to continue it in an executive session for the reason of disciplining, dismissing or hearing complaints about an employee when the board meets Monday. Mr. McIntire and Ms. Dam opposed. It will be the commission's first meeting in the new location of the selectmen's meeting room.

But Mr. Elliot, Mr. Gagner and Ms. McKissick voted to rescind the June 18 decision to televise meetings.

When Mr. McIntire asked why the three objected to televising, Mr. Elliott said, "We've got a little bit of a side show going on right now."

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 5, 2007
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