Bourne Charter Compliance Committee Takes Hard Look At Town Administrator's Contract
By: Diana T. Barth
The town Charter Compliance Committee held a public hearing Monday evening on Richard W. Conron’s complaint that selectmen violated the town charter in the execution of Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino’s latest contract. Mr. Guerino’s recently approved two-year contract includes language that says that some provisions “supercede” those in the charter.
The committee now has three weeks to deliberate before making a decision on that complaint.
The compliance committee met last month for the first time since 2008 and determined that there might be some validity to Mr. Conron’s April 23 letter to them and set the matter for a formal hearing this week. Mr. Conron, as the complainant, set out the two issues that prompted him to write to the committee.
The first is the question as to whether an agreement can “supercede” the charter. He said he was able to find no instance in which that was possible.
Secondly, he said, there was language in the contract about “autonomous” departments that he said limited the powers the charter gives to the town administrator.
“If all departments were autonomous, what are we paying this guy $138,000 for?” he asked, referring to the administrator’s annual salary. Mr. Conron said the administrator has the right to override a departmental decision.
Speaking from the audience, James Mulatos of Bourne, who sat on the original charter commission, said his first reaction on seeing the language of the agreement, was, “I don’t think they can do that.”
He said he was glad there was now a process by which a voter could raise a complaint and have it reviewed.
The charter says that if the committee determines that there has been a charter violation, it should inform the violators of their decision. If that violation continues, the charter says “the committee may contact Town Counsel who may file a complaint on behalf of the town with the Superior Court.”
Judith W. Conron, a supporter of the original charter who testified before the first five-year charter review committee, and was a member of the second, said she was a longtime proponent of the charter. However, she said, she would hate to see this issue go before the court. She suggested that the contract be amended to remove the word “autonomous” and change the reference that says a provision in the contract can supercede the charter
James A. Mulvey of Buzzards Bay said to committee members that he “sees no room for dispute,” that the reference to “autonomous” action by departments was in violation of section 4.6 of the 2007 charter, the section covering the administrator’s duties.
Selectman Earl V. Baldwin, the only selectman who attended the hearing, said the language in the contract, as compared to the charter, “speaks for itself.”
The charter created a certain balance of power, he said, and in trying to circumvent that, it can “end up with a product that’s an embarrassment.”
Committee member Wayne E. Covell asked whether Mr. Baldwin was speaking for the board or for himself. Mr. Baldwin said, for himself.
At the time of the vote on Mr. Guerino’s contract, there were only four sitting selectmen. Mr. Baldwin and Selectman Donald J. Pickard voted for the contract. Selectman John A. Ford Jr. opposed it, and Selectman Peter J. Meier recused himself, as Mr. Guerino supervises his mother, a town employee.
Rosalie Cole of Pocasset rose simply to say that she has attended selectmen’s meetings and found it “an embarrassment the way that the administrator gets treated.”
“Honestly, I would have left a long time ago. It’s humiliating for him, and humiliating for those sitting there.” She said she just wants the town to focus on its business.
Mr. Conron was given the last word and noted that the charter was created to define, and limit, the powers in Bourne, and that altering that balance of power seemed illegal to him.
Committee member Don C. Hayward questioned whether he was the only one who found it disturbing that there was no one present to argue the other side of the question.
Chairman Lucia Fulco said, however, that it was a posted, public meeting and that selectmen and others had a opportunity to attend.
The committee voted unanimously to close the public hearing, giving them, under the charter, three weeks to deliberate and make a decision.
Reached on Tuesday, Selectman Donald J. Pickard said he did not realize that the meeting was testimonial. Mr. Pickard said, however, that he probably would not have attended. Selectman John A. Ford Jr., said the same, explaining their rationale.
Basically, the selectmen said, they did everything correctly. In the contract process, the town was represented by counsel, and Mr. Guerino was represented by counsel. If a person can waive his federal and state Constitutional rights, Mr. Ford said, he can waive his rights under the charter. That, he said, was what Mr. Guerino did in signing the contract.
That contract, he said, contained a number of clauses in Mr. Guerino’s favor, balancing out the progressive discipline clause that was more stringent than the process contained in the charter. Since the board followed advice of counsel, who wrote and approved the language of the contract, they had little or nothing to add to the review. The onus is on Mr. Conron to demonstrate that what they did was a charter violation.
Were the agreement to go back to the drawing board, Mr. Ford shared no opinion as to how the vote of the current five-member board on a new or revised contract would go.
The committee continued its deliberations to July 9, at which time they will have advice of counsel. At their June 12 meeting, selectmen approved the use of special counsel Michael D. Ford of West Harwich to assist the committee.