Saturday May 18, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

POWNAL -- Two town auditors say that between 2009 and 2012 the town made $43,864 in payroll errors.

Auditors Ray Shields and Betty Baker presented the figure to the Select Board Thursday along with a list of questions about the town's personnel policy, which they said was vague and likely to blame for the mistakes.

During the public meeting, Shields initially presented the $43,864 figure by writing it on the back of a notepad and showing it only to the board, but after some prompting he also revealed the amount to the public.

The board said it would write a formal response to the list of questions, but fielded a few.

The board had requested the meeting with the auditors because it wished to view all the information they had collected on the concerns they had been raising so the matter could be put to rest. The request was made through a letter dated April 22.

Board member Michael George asked if the auditors if they had brought what was asked and Shields said they had not, citing the letter his board sent to the Select Board the following day.

"For this meeting we request that only the selectboard and the auditors attend in ‘executive session' that no others at this time and to use this time as a window of opportunity to reach a possible solution/compromise on these matters," reads that letter, signed by Shields and Baker. "If this is not acceptable to the board we the auditors are prepared to move forward in the best interest of the Pownal taxpayers."

The Select Board did move to enter into an executive session with the auditors, which appeared to be an issue for Shields and Baker. "You didn't have the courtesy to read the letter," Shields said. "It wasn't read in the open session. That letter is very specific."

"Are you telling me you did not bring that information forward?" asked board chairman Stephen Kauppi.

"No, we did not," said Shields.

"We've played with this for quite a time," said Kauppi.

"We're not playing with it anymore," said Baker. "It's gone, it's done, it's other peoples' problem now."

Kauppi called for a motion to put the matter to rest, echoing similar motions passed by the board prior to now. The motion passed, with board member Ronald Bisson being the only "no" vote. Board member Rich Ryder was absent.

"We just want you to know that the auditors have taken other avenues," said Baker, prior to the vote.

George asked what those avenues were but Kauppi suggested he not worry about it now.

The discussion ended with Shields reading a letter addressed to the board which said the town is in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act by not allowing employees at the Waste Water Treatment Facility to indicate their starting and ending work times. It also claims the board's administrative assistant and the road foreman do not have paid sick, vacation, and holiday leave recorded on their paystubs and payroll registries which the FLSA also requires.

"The FLSA is not a suggestion, but the law of the land. Pownal must comply with it, both for the protection of its employees and the town of Pownal. Chapter 14, which I don't have here, of the FLSA outlines enforcement and possible sanctions, fines, for continued violations in these regulations," Shields said, reading from his letter.

The relationship between the Board of Auditors and the Select Board has been tense in recent months. Shields has audited payroll records and warrants going back to 2009 and raised concerns about policies, sick and vacation time, and data entry issues. It has been the board's contention that by law it is unable to make corrections outside of the current fiscal year and has been critical of Shields for reporting findings to state agencies before informing the board.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.