POWNAL -- The Pownal Board of Selectmen seeks someone to fill a vacancy in the board of auditors after Ray Shields resigned on May 5 due to health concerns. The term expires March 2015.
The selectmen will appoint Shields' replacement. The board announced on Wednesday, May 14, its request for town residents to send in a letter of interest to the Pownal Board of Selectmen, P.O. Box 411, Pownal VT 05261.
Shields said his resignation had nothing to do with the audit discrepancies filed in August 2013 that questioned the abuse of taxpayer funds in alleged town employees' abuse of sick leave, vacation, holiday and overtime, or the resulting disputes. Shields did, however, express disappointment with a lack of transparency and the way he thinks the town handles its finances.
Former auditor, Elizabeth Baker, and Shields published the annual town report in January, which included wage information of town workers. Town workers and elected officials complained that the report contained misleading and inaccurate information. Many wrote to the Banner that the report was not prepared with due diligence.
Shields admitted that errors in wage information could have been made in preparing the report, and were later made known.
The report was rhetorically designed to showcase Shields and Baker's audit of abused sick leave, holiday pay and overtime that was filed with the state police last summer. The data that they collected led them to believe that between 2009 and 2012, seven town employees were overpaid a collective $43,000.
"People were upset that we published the municipal wages in the annual (town report) there are a lot of people that make a lot of money here in this little town," Shields said. "There's nothing wrong with that: A lot of them do functions that are very important, but some people don't like to see their name and wage information made public."
Shields said that he and Baker were disappointed that nobody mentioned the discrepancies in wages when they were apparent, but that they focused too much on the inaccuracies of the report.
"The town, in (its) wisdom, doesn't want to turn over a hornet's nest," Shields said. "I have taken it as far as I could possibly take it. I went to the labor board, and the labor board told me that the town could get the money back from their accrued financial benefits rather than from their paychecks, so we can give the money back to the taxpayers."
Shields said that the town officials would not give the money back because they felt that discrepancies from fiscal years between 2009 and 2012 were outdated. He said the board still refuses to talk about it and that the current audit committee no longer checks salary and wage information against the hours worked by the town officials.
Shields said there are good people working in the town, but they often form association with one another based on common interest. "I like living here. I just find that the town is more so very cliquish I think that's a big conflict of interest, but it's not really my business."
The state police concluded last year that the course of conduct in town employees taking paid leave is not supported by a criminal statute in Vermont law. The police closed the investigation because no crime was found. Shields said the police did not take the time needed to reach that conclusion. The audit discrepancies will likely retire with Shields' resignation.
Contact Tom Momberg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg