NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

October 13, 2012

Officials are split on Blais deal

West Newbury: Some oppose additional payment for ex-finance director

(Continued)

In March 2011, selectmen ordered a $25,000 forensic internal control review of the Finance Department. It revealed significant problems with some internal controls and cases of both overpayment and underpayment in a sampling of employee payrolls.

But when Finance Director Warren Sproul took the helm in September 2011, he called Blais’ management of financial reconciliation and reporting “very strong” and said he saw “no red flags” in the audit, though he agreed internal controls could be improved within the system. Selectmen have not requested repayment from any employee who was identified in the audit as being overpaid, nor has the town reimbursed any employees identified as having been underpaid. Blais now works as town administrator in Newbury.

In a joint statement issued by both sides following the settlement, the parties involved said they “wish to avoid the cost and expense of prolonged litigation and focus on moving forward with other priorities.”

In a separate statement, defendants Kemper, Atwood and McGrath said, “We understand the town’s and Ms. Blais’ decision to reach a settlement in this case; however, we deny all allegations made against us by Tracy Blais and continue to believe that her allegations lack merit and substance. In addition, we strongly refute the sexual harassment allegations against John McGrath that underlie some of Ms. Blais’ claims.”

But, they conclude, “Despite our views, we ultimately support the settlement, which we believe to be in the town’s best interest.”

Uniejewski disagreed. He argued that the “unintended consequences” of the selectmen’s action with the settlement could set damaging precedent for future lawsuits if employees or contractors believe the town is quick to settle.

Sherrie Gadd, the lone Finance Committee member to support the additional $40,000 payment to Blais, said although it might seem like “a no-brainer” to reject the article for fiscal reasons, she felt a “moral obligation” to honor a settlement that selectmen negotiated for the town.

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