WELLFLEET — It’s been a stunning week at town hall following the sudden departures of both the town administrator and town accountant on April 23, while next year’s budget remains unbalanced and an auditor’s report has revealed major accounting problems.
Select board chair Michael DeVasto announced on Saturday evening that his board and Town Administrator Maria Broadbent “have mutually agreed that it is in the best interest of all parties for Maria to move on.” Town Accountant Heather Michaud had also resigned, he wrote in a statement posted on the town website.
The departures followed weeks of alarming revelations about the town budget. An audit by Powers & Sullivan, which has not yet been made public, found “substantial issues,” which Michaud told the select board on April 13 will take “two or three years” to fix.
On Tuesday, the select board appointed Fire Chief Richard Pauley to serve as acting town administrator, effective immediately.
“I’m humbled,” said Pauley. “I’ll be in town hall tomorrow.”
Then the select board moved to delay the June 5 annual town meeting until June 26, with rain dates of June 27, 28, and 29. The town election, which had been posted for June 14, will be postponed until June 30, the last possible day for override questions to be approved by voters for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Had they not postponed the town meeting, the warrant with a final budget would have had to be ready for the printer by Friday, April 30, DeVasto said.
Pauley said the delay “will give us a few more weeks and perhaps the budget will be able to be fleshed out a little, given the situation at town hall.”
Pauley has spent the last two decades leading New England fire departments. From 1998 to 1999, he was superintendent of fire prevention in Hudson, N.H. He spent the next seven years as Milford, N.H.’s fire chief; he moved on, in February 2007, to the same position in West Boylston.
Pauley left West Boylston in 2013 after what the Worcester Telegram & Gazette described as a year of contention with the local select board. He has served as Wellfleet’s fire chief for the eight years since.
A Critic of Broadbent
In the month since town budget-related drama began dominating select board meetings, Pauley emerged as one of the fiercest critics of Town Administrator Maria Broadbent’s management practices. Even as department heads grew frustrated by Broadbent’s rejiggering of their proposed budgets, most were leery of criticizing her directly — focusing instead on broader problems with the accounting system and choosing their words carefully.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say she cut my budget,” said Police Chief Michael Hurley in an April 13 interview. “She maybe just was getting down to the penny.”
Pauley was less circumspect: “I’m at my wits’ end” was his on-Zoom refrain. Repeatedly, in select board meetings, he directly contradicted Broadbent’s claims. “With all due respect,” he said on April 5, after Broadbent said she “didn’t cut anything” from the department head budgets, “when a statement is made that there are no cuts in the budget — there have been.”
On April 27, DeVasto said Pauley had put his own name forward; his candidacy was the only one the select board discussed. Per section 5-10-1 of the town charter, Pauley’s stint as acting town administrator will last until the town appoints an interim town administrator and can extend for no longer than 90 days. During that period, Pauley will continue to serve as fire chief.
“There probably needs to be some discussion of compensation for going above and beyond his role as fire chief,” said DeVasto. “That will have to be something that we talk about, negotiate.”
A Closed Meeting
The situation at town hall changed radically on April 23, when the select board held a closed meeting, citing the exception in the Open Meeting Law that allows officials to discuss the reputation, character, or dismissal of an employee, in this case Broadbent.
Broadbent’s last day of employment in Wellfleet is Friday, April 30.
The agreement that Broadbent will leave comes more than two years before her contract expires on July 31, 2023. She has been employed by the town since August 2020. Though the select board has not disclosed how they parted ways, there is a clause in Broadbent’s contract that may apply. It states that she is entitled to 60 days pay as severance if she is terminated or resigns “following either a vote to suspend … or a vote of no confidence by the board.”
Broadbent, 55, earned an annual salary of $160,000. She did not return a phone call or email seeking comment.
She had been fired from the job of director of the Annapolis, Md. office of environmental policy in 2018. Though she got a new job that same year as town manager of Berwyn Heights, Md., she was interviewing in 2019 to be Provincetown town manager. She told the Independent in 2019 that the Annapolis firing was a political move by the newly elected mayor, who was facing stiff opposition related to a controversial development that she was permitting. “I left with my integrity and I’m OK with that,” she told the Independent.
While the select board members were meeting in executive session about Broadbent, they got an email informing them that the accountant, Michaud, would not return to work, said board member Ryan Curley.
Michaud, who lives in Eastham, told the Independent she had decided to resign prior to Broadbent’s departure. She said she would not consider returning to Wellfleet even though Broadbent is gone. She resigned, she said, for “personal reasons.” Her salary was $95,000.
On Tuesday, the select board was left with the task of finalizing a budget that has been fraught with controversy. At an April 5 meeting, six department heads publicly criticized the fiscal 2022 budget prepared by Broadbent and Michaud. The police chief, fire chief, shellfish constable, recreation director, and director of community services all said Broadbent’s budget was missing items, including an expenditure approved by town meeting voters of $200,000 for preschool vouchers for three- and four-year-olds. Broadbent’s budget allocated $136,960 for four-year-olds but nothing for three-year-olds.
Wellfleet’s accounting department has been plagued by inconsistent leadership.
Prior to Michaud’s four months on the job, Town Accountant Gene Ferrari served for one year. Broadbent let him go on the last day of his contract. She would not publicly state her reasons. Before Ferrari, the accountant’s position had been unfilled for several months.
It’s clear that the town’s finances are in disarray. The auditors’ report included a long list of deficiencies. The select board is still waiting to hear a presentation on what exactly the auditors found. Broadbent had promised that auditors would reveal their findings in May.
Despite all this, DeVasto, in his statement, tried to assure the residents “that all department heads and staff continue to work professionally and collaboratively in getting the important business of our town accomplished in the best interest of our community.”
Interviews for an interim town administrator were scheduled to begin on Wednesday, April 28.