Middleborough’s gas and electric department has come under intense public scrutiny, following revelations that its commissioners have bumped up its general manager’s pay by $57,000 in three years, making him the highest-paid such municipal employee in the state.
According to nine years of executive session minutes released Friday, general manager John Granahan was making $135,000 annually before July 2008, when he was the department’s business manager. When he became general manager, the Municipal Gas and Electric Commission boosted his salary to $160,000, then to $165,000 for 2009.
A 9 percent raise in 2010 raised Granahan’s pay to $179,000. And in 2011, he received another 5 percent raise, to $188,000. A “productivity bonus’’ tacked on in January increased the package to $192,482.
All told, the step up to general manager three years ago has netted Granahan $57,000 in pay increases, the minutes show. He is the highest-paid general manager of 40 municipal electric utilities in the state, according to a survey obtained by the commission last year.
The commission’s executive session notes were only released last week following an outcry from town residents.
Lincoln Andrews, a former selectman and a vocal critic of Granahan and the five-member commission, expressed outrage in a statement he read at the panel’s public meeting Friday.
“The general manager’s contract, as written, is an affront to the ratepayers and taxpayers,’’ Andrews said. “The contract prevents Mr. Granahan from being removed for any cause other than being a convicted felon or becoming mentally incapacitated.’’
Contacted after the meeting, Granahan declined to comment.
The general manager, who was in line to get another pay raise this year, had placed his latest contract on the agenda Friday for executive session discussion, but about 100 Middleborough residents and officials packed the monthly meeting to make sure that did not happen. They said they wanted no further pay increases for Granahan considered until a new slate of commissioners takes office after the April 7 town election.
Granahan conceded, under questioning by residents, that he essentially wrote his own contracts, with help from the department’s attorneys at Rubin and Rudman, a Boston law firm. And the commissioners admitted they only took votes to approve the contracts rather than negotiate terms with the general manager.
The commission chairman, Donald Triner, has also come under fire for taking trips to distant conventions at town expense, authorized by Granahan.
While the other commissioners are aware Triner will attend the conventions, they are not told how much he spends. At Friday’s meeting, commissioner Thomas Murphy said he was never given such details.
Andrews demanded that Triner remove himself from the discussion, saying the relationship between Triner and Granahan, one approving the other’s contracts and the other authorizing expense payments, created a conflict of interest. Triner then left the meeting.
The chairman’s term expires April 7, and Triner, facing a challenge by utility department critic and former longtime town manager Jack Healey, decided two weeks ago to remove his name from the ballot.
After Friday’s meeting, Triner told the Globe he dropped out because he has agreed to coordinate state Representative Thomas Calter’s reelection campaign. “Anyway, I’ve been a commissioner for nine years, and I feel I’ve done my duty,’’ Triner said.
He declined to comment on his expenditures, other than to confirm he had attended conventions.
Commissioner Terrence Murphy, another strong supporter of Granahan, is also not seeking reelection. Political newcomer Glenn Montepart, whose wife serves on the town’s Finance Committee, is running for the seat unopposed.
Some critics, meanwhile, questioned whether Granahan’s contracts were approved legally. They said compensation agreements with Granahan were approved by the commission each year behind closed doors and there is no record they were ratified afterward in open session, which is a legal requirement. Selectman Allin Frawley filed an Open Meeting Law complaint over the contracts with the state attorney general’s office, which he and the commission agreed to continue to June.
“Both the contract and subsequent pay raises were voted in closed session and were never ratified in open session,’’ Frawley said he noted in his complaint. “I want the contract and the raises rescinded.’’
In defense of the compensation for Granahan, Thomas Murphy, who chaired Friday’s meeting, said the general manager is actually saving money, because his former position was never filled and he acts as business manager and general manager.
The department’s public relations director, Sandra Richter, said comparison with other municipal utilities is difficult, because of variations in their size and service. Braintree, like Middleborough, has 15,000 customers but offers electricity and cable rather than electricity and gas, Richter said. The Braintree general manager’s salary is $168,188, according to personnel manager Arthur Graziano.
Norwood, closest in size to Middleborough, pays its electric department director a base of $160,461, according to the town’s human resources office. It does not handle gas service, Richter noted.
Richter, who earns $102,000, said not all municipal utility departments hire public relations directors. It is usually the larger ones like Taunton’s, she said. She said she oversees the department’s website, deals with energy services and larger customer accounts, and handles marketing and sales.
Suzanne Dube, the Finance Committee’s liaison to the Gas & Electric Department, is pushing for a forensic audit and hopes the new slate of commissioners will agree. Dube said it has been tough to get financial documents from the current commission and Granahan.
“I am not out to destroy any town department,’’ Dube said. “It’s about transparency so ratepayers and taxpayers can have discussion about rates, capital projects, or stabilization funds. They handle buckets of money.’’
Other financial officials have also been stonewalled, Dube said. Initially Granahan refused to release budgets to the town manager and Finance Committee, citing an Open Meeting Law provision that allows for protection of “trade secrets.’’
Granahan also refused to provide his contract to the town treasurer, releasing it only after the treasurer appealed to the secretary of state, said Dube.Christine Legere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.