Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Taxpayer Funded Christmas Party for Weathersfield Town Employees-Details Revealed

Weathersfield, Vermont
January 9, 2018
Nancy Nutile-McMenemy

Details of the $1512 Christmas party and dinner at the Inn at Weathersfield, hosted by the town manager, for town employees and their spouses (or partners) were revealed at the select board budget meeting held on Jan. 3. (see Select Board Meeting Minutes 01/03/2018 Draft online)

In these minutes, select board member Daniel Boyer defended the expenditure saying "it bothered him to think that taxpayers would begrudge recognizing the highway crew for not being with their families on Christmas Eve and Day because of having to be out plowing the roads." The employee Christmas party was held on Friday, Dec. 14. The town manager said he "sees this (the Christmas party) as a good team-building and morale-lifting event. He is trying to restore the employees' morale and mitigate their sense of not being appreciated." Select Board Chair Kelly Murphy said "she saw it (the $1512 expenditure) as money well-spent."

The event, billed to the town account 11-7-101-99.00, Miscellaneous Expenditure (line item in FY2018 budgeted at $1200) was approved in the Dec. 18, 2017 warrants (bills to be paid.) The dinner was not put out to bid. The FY2018 budget also includes a line item (11-7-101.26.00) Awards and Recognition budgeted at $1,000.

When select board chair Kelly Murphy was contacted on Dec. 22 about the event, she responded in an email "nothing was mentioned to me about it, so I don’t have any information to provide a credible response." She referred this reporter to the town manager.

The town manger was contacted via email and replied: "We hosted a Christmas (employees recognition dinner) at the Inn at Weathersfield this year. The total cost of the event was $1512. A Christmas event of some sort has been hosted for many years (at least since the early 1990’s). When I came on I expanded the event to include the library and highway departments, because I did not feel it was right to have an event for some of the staff, but not include all staff. I did make the decision that all staff that is scheduled and works 10 hours a week would be invited."

Here is the recent history of town expenditures for these Christmas dinners. In 2013 the town office employees (police chief, office employees and highway manager) had dinner at the Hartness House in Springfield. In 2014, the event was held at the Windsor Station restaurant. In 2015, the event was held at the Martin Memorial Hall; Blood's Seafood catered this event. In 2016 the event was expanded to included the highway staff, transfer station staff, police staff, library staff and employee spouses (or partners). The event was held at the Inn at Weathersfield and the cost was $1386 through the miscellaneous expenditures line item.

At the select board meeting on June 19, 2017 member Lynn Esty mentioned an email that was sent out asking for some clarification on the miscellaneous expenditure line item. The online minutes reflect the response given. "What is the miscellaneous expenditures that we seem to be exceeding? Can we have details please. 11-7-101-99.00-the $2,065 expenditure is made up of $1,386 for the Christmas Party hosted by (town manager) Ed (Morris)." No further details were given in the minutes.

The town manager said the event has evolved from a Christmas dinner into an employee recognition dinner to honor employee milestones and to give out certificates.

The proposed budget for FY2019 shows the miscellaneous expenditure line has been reduced from $1200 to $600 and awards and recognition line has been increased from $1000 to $2100. Combined these budget items are up 23% from FY2018.

The select board met with the school board on Monday, Jan. 8. At this meeting Chair Murphy asked the school board if the school provides a taxpayer funded party or dinner for the staff and/or teachers. Principal Oakman said similar events take place. But according to the meeting minutes, the events do not appear to be funded by the taxpayers. 

The select board plans to finalize the town budget at their Jan. 15 meeting. The meeting agenda should be posted on Thursday.