Expanding County Crisis Poses Tough Challenge for Leadership
By JONATHAN BURKE
Dukes County commissioners are determined to overcome the chaos of the past few weeks.
"The county is in turmoil right now, but we're doing the best we can to put everything back on track. We'll get through it and we'll get through it with good leadership," said Roger Wey, county commissioner, in a conversation with the Gazette yesterday.
John Alley, county chairman, said he would unveil a plan to move forward at the commission's next meeting.
"This is probably the toughest time the county has ever been through in its long history. The county has taken several hits and it's imperative that we turn the corner and start moving forward. I'm confident this will point us back in the right direction," he said.
Meanwhile, the county's problems showed no signs of easing this week.
On Monday, the commissioners agreed to Carol Borer's request to terminate her appointment as the temporary county manager, but took no steps to fill the vacancy created by her sudden New Year's day departure.
Mr. Alley said there was a candidate under consideration for the temporary appointment. He would not give a name. But the two names being circulated are Steve Berlucchi, the county engineer, and Deborah Medders. Mr. Alley said a search committee to find a permanent appointment to the county manager position would be in place by Wednesday.
Following their unanimous vote to terminate Ms. Borer's certificate of employment, the commissioners entered executive session to discuss legal matters, presumably a complaint by county employee Marsha Smolev that she suffered harassment.
The details of Ms. Smolev's complaint are not clear. But a letter from Ms. Smolev's attorney to Leslie Leland, the former county commission chairman, reportedly identified Ms. Borer. And in a meeting of the county finance advisory board, Ms. Smolev said that she did not disclose an unapproved vacation and sick day payment to Ms. Borer because she felt "intimidated."
Yesterday, James Roger, Ms. Smolev's attorney, said, "There are several matters before me at this point. To be specific, I can tell you that they relate to the conduct of the county. We are waiting at this point for a police report before determining what actions we will take."
The employment attorney, James Rogers of Dailey and Associates in West Bridgewater, would not comment on whether any legal action would be filed. He said he needed to learn more.
The police are close to concluding their investigation into a vulgar e-mail message sent to Ms. Smolev the day after Ms. Borer's departure.
Sgt. Kenneth Johnson, Edgartown police, said the police would probably have a report filed by the end of next week. It appears unlikely that a criminal harassment charge will be lodged. Sergeant Johnson said the police have not found evidence of a pattern of harassment. He said the police are in the process of confirming the location from which the e-mail was sent.
To add to the county's problems, the commissioners are being criticized for their handling of appointments to the airport commission. At the county's Jan. 7 meeting, incoming county commissioner Nelson Smith and John Alley, county commission chairman, were appointed to the airport commission despite their failure to file timely requests for the appointment.
Myron Garfinkle, a candidate who had filed a request for an appointment but was not appointed, said this week it was unfair for the county commissioners to place themselves above the rules in the appointment process. At the Jan. 7 meeting, Ms. Smolev said that following the application deadline she had received calls from several people interested in the appointment and informed them that they were no longer eligible.
On Monday, the county commissioners received a letter from Ms. Borer in which she defended her position against what she described as unfair charges. "Much has been written which is inaccurate, misleading and does a disservice to this county and its form of government," she wrote. She said she did not leave abruptly, but left because there was no money to pay for her work. And she denied destroying any county files.
"The commission should be aware that any files in my office are working files. The official files are in Ms. Smolev's office under lock and key. The working files that I had in my possession related to the jail were given to Sheriff McCormack. The files that pertained to New York avenue property with the signed lease were turned over to the county treasurer. The remaining files I delivered to the deputy county manager," she wrote.
Ms. Borer acknowledged that the buy back of her vacation and sick day time could have been handled more professionally. But she maintained that the amount of the payments were appropriate.
Newly elected commissioners Paul Strauss and Mr. Smith have been assigned the task of determining whether Ms. Borer's vacation and sick day payments were appropriate. Mr. Strauss said the county bylaws offer little guidance.
"The one thing that is clear to Nelson and me at this point is that the personnel bylaws need to be revised so that there is a separate section with respect to how the county manager is dealt with in these areas," said Mr. Strauss.