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Some in Carver cry foul over move to halt panel

Carver selectmen’s decision to dismiss a town panel reviewing a state report on Town Hall operations has drawn criticism from some local officials and residents who say the board’s handling of the issue was politically motivated and will make it harder to attract volunteers to the town’s many committees.

Selectmen voted last month to disband the Audit Committee, which was reviewing the report that called for changes in the town treasurer’s department and recommended that employees be banned from holding elected office in town.

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Selectmen chairman Michael O’Donnell said he called for disbanding the panel because half of its six members had not taken an oath of office.

Some critics, including Town Clerk Jean McGillicuddy, criticized O’Donnell for dressing down the Audit Committee chairman in public, saying that poor treatment of volunteers will only make it harder to attract other volunteers. According to those at the meeting, O’Donnell called committee chairman Bruce Kaiser a “disgrace” and “dysfunctional.”

Speaking at the board’s next meeting, McGillicuddy called O’Donnell’s conduct “unprofessional.”

Others said the board’s action reflected a desire to spare Town Treasurer Jack Franey — who is also a selectman — from criticism by the committee on a range of issues raised by the state report before he faces reelection in the spring.

O’Donnell rejected the allegations, saying criticism of his conduct is itself politically motivated.

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“Was I harsh on the man? Yes, I was,” said O’Donnell, a Carver police sergeant, during a break from detail work on Monday. “He’s been involved in other governmental matters. For him to waste the town’s time was totally unacceptable.”

Selectmen created the Audit Committee last spring to examine recommendations in last year’s Department of Revenue report on the town’s financial practices after officials complained they were not receiving up-to-date financial information from the treasurer’s office. In addition to making procedural recommendations and offering some criticism of Franey, the report recommended a bylaw forbidding town employees to run for selectman.

The treasurer/tax collector, whose department was under scrutiny, is a selectman. O’Donnell and Selectwoman Sarah Hewins, the town’s conservation agent, are also town employees, so a quorum of the five-member board often faces potential conflicts of interest when town business is discussed.

The state report also recommended that the treasurer/tax collector position be changed from an elected one to an appointed one.

“The treasurer/collector needs to focus his priorities more directly on completing the core responsibilities of the office,” the report said of Franey.

Last month O’Donnell requested the Audit Committee meet with selectmen for reasons that Kaiser later said were not made clear.

When he asked why the agenda said selectmen may take a vote after his appearance, O’Donnell “launched a very mean-spirited tirade,” Kaiser said in an interview Monday.

Carver resident Jon Fortier, who attended the meeting, said last week that O’Donnell “immediately was hostile” to Kaiser. “He told him he was unprofessional, that he was a disgrace, that he wasted the town’s time, etc.,” Fortier said in an interview.

Fortier said the meeting’s purpose — a vote to disband the Audit Committee — was not made clear on its agenda.

Fortier said he has filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission on O’Donnell’s invocation of the “rule of the necessity” to allow board members with a conflict to vote on disbanding the Audit Committee because the board otherwise would not have a quorum. Fortier said state regulations on the rule of necessity require selectmen to state what their conflict is before voting, which did not happen.

Fortier called it “incredible” that those who stood to lose the most from the recommendations of the Audit Committee believed they had the right to disband it.

Franey abstained from the 3-0 vote to disband because of his conflict, and Hewins recused herself from the entire discussion.

Kaiser said that when he learned that three members of his committee had not taken the oath of office, he planned to have the group revote on approving the minutes of the previous meetings after all members had been sworn in.

He contended the political motivation was “patently obvious. Their intent all along was to destroy the committee. [Franey] doesn’t want [his job] to be appointed.”

Franey rejected the charge of political motivation. “When you get appointed to a committee, you should get sworn in,” he said in an interview last week.

Franey also pointed out that he requested the state Revenue Department report on the town’s financial practices in the first place and said he wants to see the committee’s work go on. O’Donnell also said he wants an audit committee to continue.

“The intent is to reinstate the committee but do it correctly,” O’Donnell said. He said the committee should deal with practical issues such as whether the treasurer’s staffing level is correct and what systems the department needs. “Give him [Franey] the resources he needs,” he said.

O’Donnell also turned the charge of “politics” on opponents, arguing that criticism of his conduct as a selectman and Franey’s performance as treasurer is politically motivated by those who back other candidates.

“This is a small town and small town politics,” O’Donnell said. “They’re out to discredit other people.”

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.

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