By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Board of Public Works had an evening full of testy exchanges at its meeting on Monday, 3/11. BPW member Robert “Hoppy” Hobson, started right at the beginning, before the meeting even got started, when he said he would not vote to approve minutes from executive sessions going back to October.
All the minutes in question pertained to the raises that were given to the sewer and water superintendents. At issue is that the sewer superintendent got an 8% raise in June when she signed a new contract. However, it turned out that both positions should have been covered by the new wage and classification study, making her contract invalid.
Because of the mixup and some conflicting language in bylaws and state laws that created the Fairhaven BPW and switched Fairhaven to the Town Administrator form of government, the Selectboard had to vote to bring the two positions into the W&C plan. The BPW members and the Selectboard were both split on it, but it did pass and the raises were granted.
Mr. Hobson and DPW superintendent Vinnie Furtado went back an forth, with Mr. Hobson saying the sewer superintendent got an 8% raise, then an 11% raise, making it a 19% raise total, and board members saying that it was not 19%.
Mr. Furtado explained that the 11% was based on the original salary, it was not on top of the 8% granted in June. In total, he said, the raise was about $14,000, bringing that job to just under $99,000.
Mr. Hobson, however, would not relent. He kept hammering home his point that the contract should be valid, but if it was not, then they should not have been paying the extra 8% for the past few months.
When they negotiate contracts, said Mr. Hobson, the employees generally get 2–3% raises. He said the two superintendents should also get that, even though 3% of 100K is a lot more than 3% of 35K.
BPW chairperson Brian Wotton stopped discussion on the minutes, and the discussion was tabled to the end of the meeting.
The board kept its appointment, and approved a grease trap waiver for an edible cookie dough business at 48 Main Street. The cooking will be done next door at the American Legion, so a grease trap is not necessary.
The next order of business was the employment agreement for Mr. Furtado. The board approved a change to the contract, adding a year, so it now ends in 2026. Mr. Hobson said the contract was too long.
“Vinnie does a good job and all that,” said Mr. Hobson, but no one should get a seven-year contract.
It does not even matter, he said, because at the beginning of the contract, it says the board can fire him anyway.
“He can quit,” said Mr. Hobson, adding that Mr. Furtado should have to pay a penalty if he quits before the contract is up.
Other board members said that the point was to “lock” Mr. Furtado in because the upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant were gong to take years and they wanted to have someone who would be there throughout the process.
“It’s the longest contract I’ve seen,” said Frank Coelho, who is running for BPW, adding that even the President of the US only gets four years.
Mr. Wotton said that the board was an elected board, so members come and go, but Mr. Furtado will be there.
Mr. Coelho disagreed with that, saying that no matter what, the projects would continue.
“It’s outrageous to offer him a contract like that,” said Mr. Coelho. “I like Vinnie too, but…no one in Fairhaven has a contract that long.”
In the end, the vote to approve was unanimous.
The board went back to discussing the release of the minutes. They were all approved, with Mr. Hobson voting “no” on all of them: 10/29/18, 11/19/18, 12/3/18, 12/17/18, 1/7/19, 1/28/19, 2/11/19, 2/25/19; and open session minutes from 2/25/19 that Mr. Hobson voted for.
Mr. Furtado started the new discussion by reviewing the history of the town administrator act, and the abolition of the Personnel Board, with those duties going to the new TA, and the conflict with the language. The TA and Personnel Board changes assumed that the BPW would also be eliminated and that public works would be under the authority of the TA. But voters rejected that.
Mr. Furtado explained that non union personnel used to be under the Personnel Board, but that board was eliminated. He said when the water superintendent contract was about to expire in December, he checked with Town Counsel on how to proceed and that is when he learned that the contracts were invalid.
“Did one of those employees get lucky? Yes,” said Mr. Furtado.
The two went back and forth a bit.
“I’m just trying to bring it all out on TV,” said Mr. Hobson, so maybe people will think that “Hoppy’s not that dumb.”
He said the BPW is giving away too much power. Why not just give it all to the TA, he said.
“When Osuch [former Executive Secretary] was here, none of this shit happened,” said Mr. Hobson.
Mr. Furtado countered that the town was lucky they found people to work at the lower wages for all those years.
Mr. Wotton tried to rein in the discussion. He said the topic was in Mr. Furtado’s report, so he would let board members continue, but he would no longer open it to the floor, meaning the public. Mr. Coelho, however, kept raising his hand to speak.
Mr. Wotton said it would be a violation of Roberts Rules of Order, because the two superintendents were not there to represent themselves.
“I don’t think it’s right. I’m gonna put a stop to it right now,” said Mr. Wotton. “And if anybody has a problem with it, you can leave this room immediately. Understand? I will not take discussion from the floor.”
His voice slowly raised louder and louder.
“This will be the last time, Mr. Coelho, that I will state that,” said Mr. Wotton. “And if you raise your hand again, I’m gonna politely ask you to leave the room.”
Mr. Coelho stood up and the two spoke over each other for a bit.
“I’ll tell you what,” said Mr. Coelho. “You don’t have to ask me to leave the room. I’ll leave the room.”
He said that Roberts Rules of Order would allow him to speak if the board voted on it and he was going to ask for that vote.
“But you denied me that,” said Mr. Coelho.
“I’m not allowing discussion on this matter,” said Mr. Wotton.
And Mr. Coelho left the meeting.
Later in the meeting as they discussed committee assignments, Mr. Hobson got a few more shots in about salaries. He said the waterways fund was being used for salaries and that is not what it is supposed to be for.
“The people in this town ain’t paying attention,” said Mr. Hobson. “And my parting shot would be: If Mr. Roderiques [former Finance Committee chair] and Mr. Osuch were still here, we wouldn’t be going through all this.”
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