MILL RIVER — In what was planned to be a closed-door meeting, a performance review for the town’s treasurer resulted in the employee of nearly four years to be placed on a 90-day probationary period, for the second consecutive time.
Given the options to either end or continue the current probationary period, or possible termination, the New Marlborough Select Board voted to extend the probationary period for part-time employee Marilyn Fracasso by a 2-1 vote.
Nathaniel Yohalem, chairman of the Select Board, said the town had received a report from Thomas Scanlon of the South Deerfield-based firm Scanlon & Associates, detailing “substantial problems” within the town’s finances. The Jan. 14 report reflected on the duties of the treasurer and not any wrongdoings of the town, he said.
“There is nothing in the report from the auditor that would indicate any kind of improper, unethical or illegal action on the part of the treasurer,” Yohalem said. “There is no missing money, nothing like that. We are talking about job performance.”
Fracasso had initially been placed on probation by the Select Board when a withholding error was made during the summer months of 2019 and discovered later in October by Town Administrator Mari Enoch.
The error resulted in 11 employees having to pay back a certain amount from their previous paychecks to the town, according to the minutes from an Oct. 9 Select Board meeting.
Enoch further cited other instances where she considered Fracasso’s performance not meeting expectations, such as an instance when the Select Board stipend wasn’t paid on time, a late payment to the Southern Berkshire Regional School District and a lack of cash reconciliations, or the verification of the town’s sent and received payments, being done in a timely fashion.
Although cash reconciliations are part of the treasurer’s duties, Fracasso admitted that she had not been doing them. The task was taken over by Enoch two years ago.
Fracasso says that she was not properly trained to do municipal reconciliations, other than one day of training from the Baystate Municipal Accounting Group when she first started.
“Cash and bank reconciliations both have been done by Mari, because I have not had time to do them,” Fracasso said. “I have been asking for three years for more time, because 18 hours is not enough. When I did ask Mari to turn them over to me … I was turned down.”
When Yohalem asked Fracasso about the withholding error regarding medical insurance and employees’ paychecks, she said the error was made in the days after the death of her husband, Harry Fracasso, who died on June 19, 2019 at the age of 83.
“The timeframe when this mistake was made was two weeks after my husband died,” Fracasso said. “To be honest with you, I don’t even remember doing any of the adjustments. To hold this to me … where’s your empathy? Everyone of you. Yes, errors have been made. I’ve been under a terrible amount of stress. Coming in here and being put under a microscope is the most stress I can be under.”
Yohalem reminded Fracasso and other Select Board members that the board attempted to have the meeting during an executive session, but was advised against it by town counsel. When reached for comment, Jeremia Pollard, town counsel, said he was unable to discuss communications with his client, due to attorney-client privilege.
“I think you raked me over the coals,” Fracasso said. “I am under a microscope here. Nobody says ‘good job’ or whatever. It is always picking out the wrong things and just harp on mistakes. That’s all that Mari has done.”
Yohalem stressed that the frequency of errors made by Fracasso was alarming to keep track of.
“If the word mistake didn’t have an ‘s’ at the end … but it’s mistake after mistake after mistake in various errors,” Yohalem said. “We just had one this week.”
Following the meeting, Fracasso said that a town employee recently received double pay because they forgot to hand her their paycard from the previous week. Fracasso said she was currently taking care of the issue that pertained to federal taxes and health insurance being taken out of the paychecks.
When Yohalem made a motion to keep Fracasso on as the town treasurer with the understanding of a retroactive pay increase, but the motion received no second.
Select Board member Richard Long said he was trying to grapple with the decision to either extend the probationary period or to terminate the position.
“In my observations, Marilyn has always been very committed and dedicated to her work,” Long said. “I’m sure she wants to do a good job, but I am not convinced that her skill set that she brings to this type of position and its requirements, are necessarily a good match.”
Long added that he wasn’t confident that things would change after a further probationary period, but was willing to entertain the idea of it.
In attendance at the meeting was Finance Committee member Barbara Marchione, who chimed in, saying if the town was to terminate the treasurer’s position, the state’s labor board could get involved. She asked if there was a job description to the role and if any other department had a performance review in the past six months.
“There are a lot of things you are assuming, because the day after town meeting, I walked in here and I saw this woman being screamed at by Michelle Shalaby (former chairperson of the Select Board),” Marchione said. “The next day she was hauled in for a performance review. That is unethical.”
Marchione pointed out that the town does not have a human resources employee to go to in difficult circumstances.
“This woman just lost her husband,” Marchione said. “She’s lost another source of income and she has been under duress. I really wish you would reconsider. This town is not known to treat their employees this way. We do not have any HR, she can’t go to anyone with a complaint. If she and Mari have an issue, Mari is her boss.”
Yohalem described the situation as an “unsolvable situation.” Select Board member Tara White disagreed.
If the board had listened to Fracasso’s initial pleas for more hours and training, the town may have been able to solve it then, said White.
“If, in fact, she was asking for it, we, as a Board of Selectmen, failed if our employee came to us asking and telling us something and we paid no attention to it and didn’t act on it,” said White. “I think that is a fault of the board as a whole for not taking it more seriously and delving it into it when the person came and said they needed more time.”
Since White is also the town’s accounting officer, the board briefly debated if she could legally vote on the status of the position of the town treasurer.
Yohalem said that he didn’t think White should be allowed to vote, citing a conflict of interest between their municipal roles. However, White was granted permission to vote by the chairperson.
“Frankly, I think there’s a direct conflict of interest,” Yohalem said. “It doesn’t have to do with friendship, but a working relationship between the treasurer and the accountant. I am going to allow you to vote. You don’t have to. You can abstain if you want to, but you can vote.”
Yohalem made a motion to terminate the position of the Town Treasurer which received a second by Long. Yohalem voted in favor of terminating the position, while Long opposed it. White abstained from the vote, which defeated the motion.
Long then made a motion to extend Fracasso’s probationary period for 90 days, which received a second by White. Both Long and White voted in favor of extending the probationary period, while Yohalem voted against it. The vote was made on the understanding that Fracasso would attempt to get up to speed with tax titles and cash reconciliations.
After the meeting, Fracasso said that her job has consisted of day-to-day, on-the-job training, and that she has reached out for help at times from Enoch and other town employees.
“I think they have it out for me,” Fracasso told this newspaper. “Mari and I are estranged. Hopefully, they will see I need more training.”
The Select Board agreed to hold a meeting with Fracasso during the week of Jan. 27 to further discuss what they expect from her during her extended probationary period.