Report Details County Trouble

Dukes County Leaders Conclude Their Internal Probe Into Facts Surrounding Payments Made to Former County Manager

By JONATHAN BURKE

The Dukes County commissioners this week heard their two freshman members report that new personnel bylaws, stronger supervision and better record-keeping will be required if the county is to avoid another mess like the one surrounding the departure of county manager Carol Borer.

In their 22-page report, newly-elected commissioners Paul A. Strauss and Nelson W. Smith said they found duplicate sets of records and that Mrs. Borer had taken some of them home to alter on her own time. They said that in requesting $21,157 in vacation and sick day pay prior to her departure, Mrs. Borer "seems to have complied with personnel bylaws some time (sic) and to state that she is not covered by them at other times."

The two commissioners concluded that of the 55 vacation days the county paid Mrs. Borer on her departure, she was only properly eligible for 25 - a difference of more than $9,100. But in the end, Mr. Strauss and Mr. Smith recommended that the county ask Mrs. Borer to give back only $5,483.52 of the sum the county paid her.

Over her five years as county manager, Mrs. Borer claimed to have accumulated 97 days in compensatory time despite the fact that the personnel bylaws specifically prohibited compensatory time for department heads prior to April 2002. Though the bylaws state that unused vacation may be carried over for one year under certain circumstances, Mrs. Borer carried over her vacation days for five years.

At the same time, without a contract to guide her, Mrs. Borer chose to follow the bylaws when determining how much vacation time she was entitled to annually.

"She chose when and when she shouldn't apply the bylaws," Mr. Strauss said in an interview Wednesday. But he noted there was nothing that clearly prohibited Mrs. Borer from doing that. "There is no standard, and that's a big part of the problem."

The county manager is not the only employee of Dukes County in this situation. When it comes to compensatory time, the county has no written standard for any department heads.

According to the bylaw in effect up until April 2002, "Department heads shall be deemed to have continuous responsibility to the public and shall not receive compensation for overtime." Revised bylaws, adopted April 10, allow department heads to "accrue compensatory time."

"Is it allowable to retroactively go back after the rules have been changed and say I want this comp time?" asked Mr. Smith at the meeting.

"It was very apparent that a lot of people erred in this, not the least being the county commissioners," said commissioner Robert Sawyer.

"It has to be looked at. I don't think any of us have focused on that provision. My personal inclination is we go back to the way it was. I don't think department heads should get paid for overtime," he said following the meeting.

Mr. Strauss and Mr. Smith arrived at the figure of $5,483.52, which they said the county should seek from Mrs. Borer, by deducting 16 vacation days that Mrs. Borer had used compensatory time to take and two sick days which Mr. Strauss said were erroneously counted.

The commissioners voted 4-2 with one abstention to accept the report's payback recommendation.

"I'm saying no because I think we should pay our county employees what they deserve," said Leonard Jason. Mr. Jason defended Mrs. Borer's conduct, including the fact that she kept her own records without any oversight. "Why are we so shocked that she filled out these forms and turned them in to Marsha?" he asked.

The commissioners on Tuesday night did not address the question of how they will proceed if Mrs. Borer, who has retained an attorney in this matter, declines to pay the county back. Mrs. Borer has had the sum of $21,157 since being paid in two installments authorized by Leslie Leland, chairman of the county commissioners, in November and December.

Woodrow Williams, a Tisbury resident who attended Tuesday night's meeting, said, "I don't see how you guys can sit here and take a vote on a compromise when she's in violation of [the law]." He said an outside panel should be appointed to investigate the matter.

But county commissioners said this week they are disinclined to undertake an outside investigation, although it is likely that some form of expert help will be sought in connection with a review of the personnel bylaws. Mr. Sawyer and commissioner Roger Wey have been appointed to examine the bylaws and report back to the commission.

Tuesday's meeting represented an attempt by the commission to get a handle on the muddle created by Mrs. Borer's departure. In addition to approving Mr. Strauss and Mr. Smith's recommendations, the commissioners appointed Diane Powers as acting county manager and Diane Abbot as temporary administrative assistant.

In 1995, before there was a county manager, Ms. Abbot served as the county's executive assistant. "It's wonderful for the county because she does know the job," said Ms. Powers.

Ms. Abbot will be in charge of the county's day to day affairs but will not have signatory authority. Ms. Powers, who holds the elected position of register of deeds, will be responsible for signing all necessary forms. But with an assistant, Ms. Powers will be able to resume her regular work at the registry of deeds. "I'm looking forward to it," she said.

Ms. Abbot will have her hands full as Marsha Smolev, executive assistant to the county manager, has been placed on administrative leave pending the resolution to her claim of harassment at the hands of Mrs. Borer.