Town officials from Marion, Wareham, and Carver have a sour taste in their mouths over the pickle in which the three towns now find themselves pertaining to the current state of its private collective trash entity and the uncertain future of trash collection.
Ray Pickles, a man ubiquitously well known in Marion for his current municipal positions as town clerk and member of the Board of Assessors and prior positions as town administrator of 28 plus years, building commissioner, and zoning enforcement officer, was also the executive director of the Carver, Marion, and Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District for years – that is until January 29 when the CMWRRDD Committee terminated its contract with Moss Hollow Management Corporation and extended it to include Pickles “doing business as Moss Hollow,” as stated in the minutes of that meeting.
Moss Hollow Management Corporation is listed on the Secretary of State website as under the ownership of Pickles’ wife Diane Bondi-Pickles. The company’s status as a corporation was involuntarily dissolved by the Secretary of State’s Office on June 30, 2017, unbeknownst to the committee, said Marion Selectman and CMWRRDD member Norm Hills during a follow-up on February 9.
During the January 29 meeting, according to the minutes, the committee could not locate any past contracts with Moss Hollow, and the last reference to any contract with Moss Hollow was in 2010 – beyond its statutory life and basically null and void, the committee determined, and should be terminated.
On February 6, the small CMWRRDD headquarters office on Island Wharf in Marion was packed with committee members representing all three towns, all three town administrators, Marion Finance Director Judith Mooney, other CMWRRDD Committee members like retired DPW Superintendent Rob Zora, Wareham Harbormaster Gary Buckminster, and the press. The conference table was elbow to elbow as the meeting became standing room only, except for Mooney who found a seat on the rock salt bucket by the front door.
According to Hills, since the last meeting and since Pickles was fired, chairs inside the office have gone missing.
The issue at hand now for the committee is to piece together the financial transactions of the last five years overseen by Pickles to determine where the money is, where it went, and if any of it was ever mishandled.
Pickles has been removed from all known CMWRRDD accounts, and his CMWRRDD cell phone account was canceled. The locks on the office doors were subsequently changed.
According to Carver Town Administrator Michael Milanoski, the town administrators have only been attending CMWRRDD Committee meetings since January 11 when the committee authorized all three town administrators to begin jointly serving as district administrator – Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson servicing matters pertaining to finance and compliance, Wareham Town Administrator Derek Sullivan in matters of facility operations, and Milanoski in administration and legal matters.
On January 11, Mooney was also appointed the authority to oversee all the audit and financial information on behalf of CMWRRDD.
Dominating the discussion that night was a possible forensic audit of every fiscal year since the last documented audit Pickles was able to provide to the committee from 2012. Review of documentation has been slow, with documents missing, and financial concerns were raised, as it was discovered on January 29 that records pertaining to fiscal years 2016 and 2017 indicate more was spent than was budgeted, and it appears as though Pickles was still paying off the FY2017 bills with FY2018 money.
Milanoski said the committee is still waiting on various documents and past audit information “…That may or may not exist,” he said, just before recommending a five-year audit.
“We’re going to have a lot of trouble trying to find all the records,” said Milanoski.
But as Dawson asked, “Are we going to be able to provide [auditors] with the information they’re going to need? And that’s questionable at this time.”
“We may be looking at a forensic audit,” said Milanoski. “But does the data exist? Can we complete the audit?”
The consequences of not being able to fully comply with the audit, said Mooney, would be a “black mark” on the CMWRRDD’s bond rating and even the bond ratings of the three individual towns.
Mooney said a forensic audit would investigate every aspect of the money that came in and was spent during the last five years of relatively undocumented transactions and, although more expensive than a standard audit, would provide the committee with an overview of the entire last five years.
The committee will review quotes at the next meeting and then order the audit.
There were other questions that popped up that night like, where did the stabilization fund go?
“It may have already been spent,” said Milanoski, “We don’t know – and that’s the thing. We don’t know.”
Hills said he found bank statements for two accounts, but two new checking accounts were discovered that the committee was not aware existed.
Mooney added that she changed those two accounts Hills found, and also another, after she discovered the CMWRRDD was incurring extra charges for not keeping a minimum balance.
As the audit unfolds, former Marion selectman and CMWRRDD Chairman Stephen Cushing wondered if the committee members and town officials would suffer any liability should any inappropriate or illegal activity be documented, but an insurance policy in place should protect the committee members and the towns as long as all parties acted in good faith.
As the meeting went on, Mooney retreated at times to Pickles’ old office to comb through file cabinets and assess what was there.
According to Hills, who was appointed to the CMWRRDD when he was elected to the Board of Selectmen, the red flags started popping up in March last year when Marion (and the other two towns) received a bill for $59,000 from CMWRRDD after years of either no charges or minimal charges for trash tonnage. More red flags started waving back in December when the committee met with Pickles to review Pickles’ proposed FY19 budget for the district.
“It wasn’t even added up right,” Hills said during the follow-up. “We told [Pickles] to go fix it and we’ll have another meeting. Then somewhere along the line, the town administrators got involved in what was going on with the budget so they showed up and it’s been a sleigh ride ever since.”
There are many questions and a number of things Hills said do not add up, like unpaid bills and no back up to expenditures and financial transactions. And the absence of an audit five years in a row, said Hills, “That’s not a good sign.”
And as far as Moss Hollow goes, said Hills, “We’d been paying a company that doesn’t exist [anymore].”
“Nobody knows enough to know which way to jump, other than we know we need to protect ourselves,” said Hills.
The CMWRRDD faces an uncertain future as its agreement with SEMASS expires at the end of 2020. Hills said on February 9 that he learned SEMASS had approached Pickles in the past with an offer to extend the contract with CMWRRDD, “And Ray said ‘no’ and no one ever told anyone.” Hills said he is hopeful, however, that SEMASS may be willing to revisit contract negotiations with the district.
The next meeting of the Carver, Marion, and Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District is scheduled for February 28 at a time and location to be determined.
Carver, Marion, and Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District Committee
By Jean Perry