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mason

Board speaks out on turmoil

Town, employee reach agreement

The Mason Select Board its former administrative assistant Barbara Milkovits reached an agreement allowing Milkovits was permitted to retire early and receive three months of salary as a severance package, along with her regular retirement benefits, according to a press release the Select Board issued Tuesday.

In the press release, which is posted on the town’s website, the Select Board addressed the recent turmoil within the town offices publicly for the first time. “In the past year, the Board has had to deal with a considerable amount of sniping, backstabbing, and uncooperativeness in the Highway Department and between administrative employees and the Town Clerk’s office. Critical information was not reaching the selectmen in a timely manner, and there was unwillingness to accept the restructuring of the administrative department. Despite these frictions, the Board of Selectmen has not fired, demoted, disciplined, or reduced the pay of any town employees. The Road Agent, Administrative Assistant and one other administrative employee left on their own accord.”

This comes after a recent interview during which Milkovits said, “The atmosphere within the town offices contributed to my decision to retire. I’m really discouraged with the current Board of Selectmen.” Milkovits also expressed her willingness to retire sooner then her initial plan to leave this fall. “I’d love to retire sooner,” she said. “I don’t think the selectmen want me here any longer. I have no idea what my job description is. After 24 years with the town, I did not expect it to end this way.”

During a June 10 Select Board meeting, Town Clerk Debra Morrison expressed her concern about the town losing three key employees in a matter of months, including Milkovitz, Milkovitz’s assistant, Martha Ward and Road Agent Fred Greenwood.

Ward retired upon Milkovits’ return from medical leave in April, while Greenwood resigned on May 10, citing in his letter of resignation, “...honesty and integrity are characteristics that are too easily abandoned in the face of any resistance and due diligence seem to be forgotten in the rush of political expediency.” When contacted, Greenwood declined to comment any further on his decision to resign as road agent.

At the June 10 meeting, Morrison said that friction within the town offices led to the departure of the longtime employees, and cited “nasty emails, phone calls, and notes,” allegedly written by the Select Board to town employees.

The severance agreement with Milkovitz follows last week’s announcement that a settlement was proposed between Milkovits and the Town of Mason for a separation of employment that made last Thursday her last day of work, after 24 years of serving the town. Milkovitz had planned to retire in November.

Select Board Chair Charlie Moser said Tuesday, “Milkovits signed the agreement last week. The board just received the agreement back today and will be signing it at our earliest convenience, but I have no doubt it will be signed, as all members of the board are in total agreement.”

Months of turmoil within the Mason town offices began when Milkovits went on medical leave in October 2013. Milkovits was on medical leave from October 2013 to mid-April, following a motorcycle accident in Pennsylvania. On Jan. 14, Milkovits attended a Select Board meeting, asking to return to her job part-time, but the board denied the request. At that time, the board declined to comment on the decision, saying it was a personnel matter.

While Milkovits was on medical leave, the Select Board restructured the jobs in the town offices, something they address in the press release, saying, “...the Board of Selectmen assessed the work flow in the Selectmen’s office and determined that changes were warranted. Many of the financial and bookkeeping tasks formerly performed by the administrative assistant are now contracted to Accukeep, Inc.”

This refers to the board’s decision to divide the duties of administrative assistant and bookkeeper, hiring Brenda Wiley as a private contractor. Wiley is responsible for keeping the town’s books, something that was part of Milkovits’ duties prior to her medical leave.

On May 1, Milkovits presented the Select Board with a retirement letter, announcing the intent for her last day to be Nov. 1, per the town’s personnel policy, which requires six months notice. In the letter, Milkovits wrote that she had become “...painfully aware of how short and fragile life really is. While [my husband and I] still have good health, we want to take advantage of the last few good years of our lives, which has prompted this decision to retire.” In the letter, Milkovits also expressed her willingness to train her replacement, as well as work as a contracted consultant following her retirement.

The Select Board addressed the recent departures of key town employees in their recent statement: “The Board of Selectmen views the departure of the road agent and administrative assistant as challenges, but also as an opportunity to make both departments more professional, efficient and cost-effective.”

For now, the board is seeking resumes for anyone interested in the open positions. “The Administrative Assistant, when the position is filled, will be responsible for monthly reconciliations, Department of Revenue Administration filings, assessment records, timber tax processing, accepting land use applications, human resources, and for answering the phone and responding to walk-in inquiries,” the press release reads. “Until the position is filled the selectmen and/or temporary employees will perform the work of the administrative assistant.”

On Tuesday, Moser said the board has yet to post the job opening because, he said, “We are crafting a job description. The road agent opening was posted in July and is open until Aug. 30. When we get a whole bunch of resumes, we will narrow it down, check references, etc.”

During an interview last week, Morrison expressed her concern with the board’s decision to not have a replacement lined up before Milkovits’ departure. “I’m disappointed in the Select Board’s actions and behaviors. They talk about trying to be transparent, but have never discussed with us the fact that Barbara is leaving or who will replace her. They don’t have anybody to take [Barbara’s] place that we are aware of. That job needs to be done,” she said.

The Select Board concluded their press release by expressing their hopes for the town’s improvement in the future. “The Board certainly hopes that the town does not lose any more key personnel in the near future, but views this period of change as an opportunity to hire the right people with the right attitude to keep Mason moving forward, for the benefit of our taxpayers and citizens.”

Dylan Fisher can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235, or dfisher@ledgertranscript.com.

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