WELLFLEET — In three days last week, the select board held three meetings during which they delayed town meeting by three weeks, reviewed warrant articles, and decided to offer the job of interim town administrator to Charlie Sumner, 66, the retired Brewster town administrator.
With the town meeting warrant and omnibus and capital budgets not yet finalized, the board had little choice but to change the date of the annual meeting from June 5 to the 26th. The budgets and warrant are expected to be complete in about two weeks, Acting Town Administrator Rich Pauley said on Tuesday. If negotiations go smoothly, Sumner said, he will take over from Pauley, who is also the town’s fire chief, at Wellfleet Town Hall on May 12.
The select board and former Town Administrator Maria Broadbent parted ways on April 23 with a “mutual agreement,” and Heather Michaud, the town accountant for the last four months, resigned the same day. They left after an auditor’s report showed the town’s finances in disarray and after failing to prepare the town budget.
Though the select board did not complete the warrant review, and the members were too exhausted to deal with the 2022 budget by the third night of meetings on April 29, they did on April 28 interview Sumner, who retired in 2015 after serving in Brewster for 29 years.
“He is the right person for what we need right now,” Pauley said. “He has great knowledge, temperament, and the ability to guide us through for the next few months.”
Pauley said he will ask the select board to meet in executive (private) session on Friday, May 7 at 6 p.m. to approve Sumner’s contract.
Sumner finished serving in April as Provincetown’s interim town manager for the previous nine months. He stepped in after Robin Craver and the Provincetown Select Board parted ways just as Craver’s six-month probationary period ended. Sumner received $80 an hour and worked a 32-hour week, according to his contract with Provincetown. He is still negotiating with Wellfleet.
Sumner’s time in Provincetown went so well that the select board named Friday, April 2, “Charlie Sumner Day” before he left.
“I have only heard the most glowing reports,” Wellfleet Select Board Chair Mike DeVasto said of Sumner.
In the meantime, Pauley and attorney Harry Terkanian, who was Wellfleet’s town administrator from 2013 to 2015, have been working to prepare the town meeting warrant and the fiscal 2022 budget. Voters must approve that budget at town meeting on June 26.
Terkanian is volunteering his time, and Pauley refused additional pay. The select board offered to pay Pauley more than his current salary as fire chief, but he declined. “That’s my decision,” he said. “There is just stuff that needs to get done. And Harry has been fantastic.”
Sumner said he believed that, between the two of them, Terkanian and Pauley could put the budget together for town meeting.
Wellfleet’s big picture, however, is less certain. The auditor’s report, which the select board is still reviewing and has not released to the public or the press, raised alarming problems, which Michaud, before she resigned, said would take two or three years to fix.
Several former town employees and others familiar with Wellfleet’s finances, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the town has suffered from inconsistent leadership. Gene Ferrari, the last town accountant before Michaud, was let go by Broadbent after one year. Before Ferrari, Connie Boulos was the accountant for two years. The town administrator position bounced from Paul Sieloff, who began in 2007 and commuted weekly from Albany, N.Y to work four days in Wellfleet, to Terkanian for three years, to Dan Hoort for four years. Broadbent lasted nine months.
Several sources said training and compliance of staff in use of the current accounting system, Vadar, has been poor. One former contractor said, “It’s endemic of not having good management. It happens over a long period of time; things build and then it gets worse.”
Pauley described “real difficulties within the accounting department related to the software and previous accounts transferring to the current software. That’s been an issue for a year.”
“We have had the turnover at the town accounting office and at town hall,” Pauley continued. “But I have full faith and confidence that the townspeople can feel the important business of town will get done.”
Accounting discrepancies during transition years do happen. In fact, Sumner faced the same issue shortly after leaving Brewster.
Sumner told the Wellfleet Select Board he retired in the fall of 2015 and Brewster Finance Director Lisa Souve retired in 2016. “We had worked together for over 25 years,” Sumner said. “We kind of finished each other’s sentences.” But after their retirements, “things kind of went off the rails,” he said.
The new town administrator, Mike Embury, and new town accountant, Irene Larivee, blamed accounting errors found by an auditor on Sumner and Souve. In a May 2018 meeting, Embury, Sumner, and Souve traded accusations. “It was ugly,” Sumner said.
Ultimately, Larivee was placed on leave and let go in October 2018. Embury resigned in June 2018. Embury, who could not be reached for comment, is currently a bus driver for the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority.