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Braintree town clerk placed on leave

Posted by dinouye  January 18, 2014 10:13 AM

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Braintree Town Clerk Joseph Powers was placed on paid administrative leave last week, following a series of conflicts with the Town Council.

Town Council President Thomas Bowes confirmed he had suspended Powers, effective Jan. 8, but said privacy rules prevented him from commenting on when or if Powers might return. He also declined to comment on the reason for the suspension.

“It was a personnel issue that we’re handling internally,” Bowes said.

Under Braintree’s charter, the Town Council appoints the town clerk and supervises his office. Powers did not return a phone message seeking comment on his suspension.

Bowes dismissed questions about whether town governance would continue smoothly without a town clerk on the job.

“He [Powers] has got a great staff and I’m confident in them for now,” Bowes said. “We’ll just have to see what happens going forward.”

Powers has been a public servant for most of his adult life, having held various elected and appointed positions in town since 1989, three years after he graduated from Braintree High School. When Braintree switched its municipal government from the town meeting format to a mayor-and-council system in 2007, Powers ran for mayor but lost to current Joseph Sullivan. Powers was appointed clerk in 2009.

Over the past several years, Powers has butted heads repeatedly with the council.
In the council’s public discussions leading up to Powers’s reappointment in July 2012, then-Councilor Leland Dingee alluded to a human resources dispute involving Powers, while Mullaney criticized Powers for poor management and for interfering with council politics. Other councilors defended Powers’s on-the-job record. The council ultimately voted 4-3 with two absences to reinstate him as clerk.

But last November, Powers filed a formal complaint with the state attorney general’s office alleging the council posted too-vague agendas for a pair of committee meetings. He accused the council of violating Massachusetts’s Open Meeting Laws.

Some councilors said they felt blindsided by the official complaint, calling it a disproportionate and drastic overreaction to a minor issue that could have been handled internally. In December, the council approved a rebuttal letter to the AG’s office formally denying any violation of open meeting laws.

The disputed committee meetings, one of which was rescheduled after councilors learned of Powers’s complaint, discussed the issue of travel spending by town employees. A review of spending on travel by the town auditor, requested by then-Councilor Dingee, found travel expenses in Powers’s office had increased sharply over the previous two years.

The council has since enacted a more rigorous travel policy to replace the old, largely informal system. The wording of the policy was revised just before its approval, after Powers questioned whether the policy was targeted at the town clerk specifically.

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