As the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District Committee studies the impact of the last five or so years of mismanagement of the district’s finances and facilities, members are finding that the former district executive director left them with a lot more to ‘dill’ with than just a financial pickle.
During the CMWRRDD Committee’s February 28 meeting, there were more disclosures of mismanagement during the last several years of ex-executive director Ray Pickles’ contract with the district. There was also confusion over contract benefits for retiring employee Eddie Florindo, whom committee member and former-DPW Superintendent Rob Zora defended by suggesting the district pay Florindo for sick time accrued beyond the scope of the contract.
With so many files and documents still unaccounted for after Pickles’ departure, the committee is unsure of how many accrued sick days and vacation time Florindo is entitled to. Furthermore, the committee believes Pickles may have “cherry-picked” aspects of the three individual towns’ employee union contracts years back, for example, when the Town of Wareham changed its health benefits cost-share ratio. Carver Town Administrator Michael Milanoski pointed out that Pickles chose not to adopt those changes in CMWRRDD employee contracts.
“That’s kind of a problem,” said committee Chairman Stephen Cushing.
In the middle of that discussion, Zora pulled out a file he said Pickles had given to him around two weeks ago, raising some eyebrows.
“I talked to Ray,” Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson said. “I asked him if he was in possession of any other files from the district.” Pickles told him no, Dawson stated.
Milanoski added, “We requested in writing that we need all district files, and all of a sudden this appears?”
Zora couldn’t explain it, saying only, “He may have run into it…”
What’s more, Pickles acted against the committee’s order when he issued Florindo a check back in December in the amount of $19,000 for a retirement-related payment; furthermore, the proper taxes were not deducted from the payment.
During the meeting, Milanoski said, “The board directed Ray to not cut any checks and he went out there and he ordered a check to be cut. We asked him not to cut a check … and he cut the check without the board’s knowledge.”
There was also talk about how no employee files with documented vacation and sick time were found after Pickles was let go, and the committee now hopes that the district’s payroll vendor will have some records of sick time and vacation time used to figure out how much sick and vacation time Florindo is owed. According to Zora, Florindo used up all his sick time and all that remained was vacation days.
Zora asked if the committee ever notified Florindo that he could only accrue so many vacation days before losing them, which Milanoski commented should be no more than 30 days, also adding that it is not the district’s responsibility to inform employees of what is already stated in their contract.
“How can the board sit here and penalize an employee?” asked Zora, adding that Florindo was a loyal employee of several decades. “I have a huge problem with that.…
This is an individual who probably never looked at his contract at all, worked here for forty- something years.… This board should do the right thing and pay him what’s on the books – what he [did] not use….”
Zora asked that the committee “let things slide” because, if Florindo had taken all of his vacation time, the Town would have had to pay another employee more for overtime. He said the committee should not “gyp” Florindo, which angered Milanoski.
“To say that the district is gonna ‘gyp’ somebody is the wrong statement to be using in a public session,” said Milanoski, as Zora tried interrupting him. “Can I finish?” He continued, “No one is talking about gypping anybody.” He said the committee would review what documents are available and pay Florindo what he is lawfully owed. “To say that we’re gonna ‘gyp’ someone is wrong,” said Milanoski.
“Keep in mind,” Milanoski added, “you’re basically bankrupt, so I don’t know where you’re gonna pay him from…. There’s a lot of bills that need to be paid,” such as OPEB and pension liabilities, said Milanoski, “So we don’t have money to throw away.…”
“At the end of the day, you’ll get your vote as a board member,” Milanoski said to Zora.
“Well, I just don’t want to see that happen … and I just have a right to voice my opinion as a member of this board,” said Zora. *
Some of the money used to reimburse Florindo for unused vacation would come from taxpayer money, said Milanoski, “So we need to do calculations and bring them back to the board to justify whatever the number.…”
And if that wasn’t enough, committee member Dave Menard gave an overview of his observations of the district’s three garbage facilities: the Carver landfill, and the two transfer stations in Rochester and at Benson Brook/Marion. Benson Brook was so bad the committee may have to shut it down.
“It’s a free-for-all,” Menard described the Marion disposal facility. “It’s poorly managed – they all are.” Menard said he saw vehicles without stickers entering and using the facility and trailers and other large equipment randomly scattered throughout the site.
Milanoski said in his own observations, he saw significant liability in the way things are set up and run at Benson Brook, prompting him to request that the committee authorize the three towns’ town administrators to devise an operations and management plan that could result in either fewer transfer station days or a consolidation of the multiple facilities.
“They’re not safe the way they’re structured right now,” said Milanoski, adding that the facilities are also running “too costly.” “There’s a liability the way they’re structured right now.”
Milanoski also observed several newer, large pieces of equipment at Benson Brook, including a new backhoe and excavator, possibly purchased without the committee’s approval.
“We’re not financially solvent,” Milanoski said. “A district of this size doesn’t need to have all this equipment. A lot of money has been spent on some equipment that is probably one of the many elements that has put us in this … [financial] situation.”
Furthermore, large quantities of animal waste are being dumped at the Rochester site; and at the Marion site, other prohibited items such as toilets, kitchen sinks, and old cabinets have been dumped, while outside contractors have been using the transfer station for dumping truckloads of wood chips, debris, and other materials without authorization to do so.
“We can no longer just accept the contractors from other towns … on the backs of the taxpayers,” Milanoski said.
Resident brush disposal is not being overseen effectively, the committee agreed.
Marion Selectman and committee member Norm Hills questioned the urgency of the liability issue, asking, “Do we need to stop people from going in there now?”
Dawson suggested addressing the matter sooner rather than later, saying, “Some containers walk up to stairs.… We’ve had falls in the past there before. It’s only a matter of time before it happens again.… Obviously, safety and liability issues are paramount.”
“It’s the right step to do,” Milanoski said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
As a result, two gates will be installed at the site – one at the transfer station entrance and another that will block access after the station entrance, where contractors appear to be illegally dumping. Currently, two temporary barriers are in place to deter further illegal dumping.
The committee also addressed so-called “volunteers,” for lack of a better word, said Dawson – “A couple of women from Wareham who are dictating the rules to anybody who walks in there” at the swap shed at Benson Brook. “It’s become a real thorn in everyone’s side down there,” Dawson continued, saying that even transfer station employees are “afraid” to talk to the women who have assumed the position of guardians of the swap shop. “It can’t go on.”
Since the meeting, the swap shop has been closed and it appears it will not re-open.
Before adjourning, the committee looked ahead to the future, speculating that perhaps they may need to add a fourth town to the district – Rochester – that also faces the imminent expiration of trash agreement with Covanta.
Rochester Selectman Brad Morse attended the meeting but did not participate, saying he was only there to listen and observe. The committee acknowledged his presence, and Cushing commented that it would be useful to include Rochester in the dialogue from now on. Morse said he agreed and would be approaching the Rochester Board of Selectmen on the matter during its March 5 meeting.
The committee authorized the three towns’ town administrators to devise a plan for the transfer stations and then notify the public of any transfer station closures. An update on this matter was added to the Marion Board of Selectmen’s agenda for the March 6 meeting. (See that article in this week’s edition of The Wanderer for details and the board’s comments.)
In other matters, the committee will select an auditing firm during its next meeting to conduct a forensic audit of the last five years. The committee has concluded that Pickles had not performed an annual audit as required since 2012.
The next meeting of the CMWRRDD Committee is scheduled for March 28 at 5:00 pm at the Marion Police Station conference room.
*Zora remains on the CMWRRDD Committee, although he is no longer employed by the Town of Marion and is no longer a resident of Marion. In a follow-up with Dawson, who claimed he was unaware that Zora had moved out of Marion, he said that Zora was appointed to the committee when he was appointed as Marion’s DPW superintendent. He said the Town’s committee policy would allow a non-resident to serve on a regulatory board until their term is up June 30 and “ride out the remainder of the year.”
Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District Committee
By Jean Perry