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Ashland selectmen appoint interim administrator

August 18, 2010
ASHLAND — At their Monday evening meeting, the Ashland selectmen appointed Paul Branscombe as interim town administrator, to serve from October through March; approved the specifications for re-building part of Sanborn Road; accepted the donation of a truck to the fire department; discussed the increases in the ambulance contract; and debated the status of the health officer and an incident involving the transfer station employees.

Interim administrator named

Current Town Administrator Tim Cullenen will be leaving his position at the end of September, as the selectmen voted 3 to 2 to not renew his contract.

At a previous work session, the selectmen decided to hire a part-time interim town administrator who would serve until March, when a full-time town administrator could be appointed.

At the Monday meeting, Chairman Sandra Coleman reported that the Local Government Center had advised her that such a part-time, temporary position did not have to be posted.

The majority of the four selectmen present decided, therefore, to appoint the interim administrator, although Selectman Dennis Potter still wanted to consider having the department heads and the selectmen run the town without hiring an interim administrator.

On a motion by Selectman Jeanette Stewart, seconded by Selectman Leigh Sharps, the board voted, with Potter abstaining, to appoint Paul Branscombe to serve as the interim town administrator from Oct. 1 to March 31. He will work 20 to 25 hours per week.

Branscombe, a local businessman, has served on several town boards and committees.

Sanborn Road project

The bidding process for the re-construction of a portion of Sanborn Road has been the subject of much debate by the selectmen for months.

The road project was originally bid out as two separate contracts for the earthwork and the paving, but the majority of the selectmen eventually decided that there should be only one contract, for both earthwork and paving, and that the specifications should be more exact than they had been in the original bid documents.

The selectmen reviewed the latest road specifications drafted by Highway Agent Mark Ober at an earlier work session, and voted to approve the revised specifications at Monday's meeting. They also agreed with Ober's plan to advertise the road project for bids, although they did move the deadline for the bids from Sept. 3 to Sept. 7, the day of their next regular meeting.

Ober felt that it would still be possible to get the road re-built before winter.

Ambulance budget

Fire Chief Brad Ober reviewed the proposed ambulance contract with the town of Plymouth with the selectmen. The charge to the towns using the ambulance service has been increased from $17 to $23 per capita.

For Ashland, this a significant increase, as the cost would rise from about $35,000 to around $47,000, an increase of approximately $12,000.

The chief suggested that the selectmen attend a meeting of the officials of the affected towns to be held two days later, to discuss the ambulance budget. He noted large increases in parts of that budget, such as $30,000 in training, $10,000 in housing expenses, and $16,000 in administrative expenses, that should be explained.

Ober said that the contract was still a good deal for Ashland, compared to the cost of the town running its own ambulance service, but he felt that the budget increases should be justified.

Three selectmen agreed to attend the meeting.

Departmental reports

The selectmen formally accepted the donation of a 2006 one-ton truck from the Ashland Firefighters Association to serve as a forest fire truck.

The town mechanic inspected and approved the used truck, which will be added to the Fire Department fleet.

Ober also reported that his department's activity spiked in July, but has slowed down in August.

In June and July, the department responded to three structure fires in neighboring towns.

The chief was concerned about the salary line of his 2010 budget, which might be overspent if present trends continue, so to stay within his bottom line, dictated by the default budget, he has put a hold on about $15,000 of non-essential spending, even though some of the items, such as hose testing and pump maintenance, do raise questions of readiness and liability. He hoped that at the end of the year, there would be enough left in the budget to pay for some of these items.

Police Chief Tony Randall noted a rash of thefts from unlocked automobiles in the early morning hours the previous week. The thieves were scared away by a part-time police officer out early one morning.

The police chief urged Ashland residents to lock their cars and to alert the police of suspicious activity by calling the police department at 968-4000 as soon as possible.

Health Officer Beth Bartlett recently submitted her resignation to the state health department and to the selectmen, leading them to discuss the vacant position at their last regular meeting two weeks ago, but Bartlett later withdrew her resignation, resulting in a debate at the Monday evening meeting on her status as health officer.

The health officer's job is a somewhat unusual position, as the town health officer is nominated by the selectmen, but is actually appointed by the state health director.

Potter and Stewart argued that the resignation still stood, and that the position was vacant. Coleman had, however, spoken that day with the state official in charge of town health officers, and had been told that, as far as the state health department was concerned, the resignation had been withdrawn and Bartlett was still the town health officer.

Tempers flare over transfer station dispute

An incident involving two transfer station employees brought the most rancorous dispute of the meeting, involving the selectmen, the employees and several members of the audience.

Coleman felt that the whole incident should be the subject of a non-public session, but employee Brian Sprague asked that there be a public hearing on the matter.

Sprague was thought by some who observed him to be asleep at the desk at the transfer station on July 31, but he denied the charge, saying that he was just resting during a break with his feet up on the desk and his eyes hidden by his dark sunglasses.

The other transfer station employee, Dean Straw, felt that Sprague was asleep, and called his supervisor, Ober, to come down to the transfer station.

Ober verbally reprimanded Sprague at the time.

At Monday's meeting, Ober said that Sprague had made a mistake, as everyone does at some time, but that he was a good worker, so Ober was satisfied with the disciplinary action that he had taken.

Several at the selectmen's meeting felt that the matter should have ended there, but a cell phone picture was taken of Sprague at the desk and circulated. Stewart, who supported Sprague in the dispute, talked to Straw two or three times about the incident, which Straw objected to at the selectmen's meeting. He invoked the Whistleblower's Act, saying that he wanted to be left alone at work. The selectmen invited the three parties involved to their meeting for a discussion that turned out to be a public and argumentative re-hashing of the incident.

There was little sign that any minds had been changed when Coleman called a halt to the debate.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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