The Case of the disappearing Town Hall employees.

The stain of favoritism that has existed for so long continues to produce repercussions in Wakefield.

Another loyal, long term Town hall employee has become victim to the low morale work environment created by our Selectmen since the voters rejected a 19% increase in the 2023 proposed budget. First to leave was Shoreland Officer Victor Vinagro. Now it’s Assessing Technician Cindy Bickford who has tirelessly helped everyone insure that they are being fairly taxed for over 25 years.

During the default budget the Selectmen cut the Town hall staff hours to 4 days a week creating a situation where everyone was expected to do 5 days work in 4 days…..for less money.
Because the Town Hall was closed on Mondays, a lot of holiday pay was forfeited as well.
This was done so that the Selectmen could fund $111,000 to the Gafney Library, which is not an essential service or part of our Town government.

As a result, Cindy was forced to take a pay cut of more than $9000 in 2023.  However, according to default budget documents, the Town administrator received $3000 MORE in compensation than 2022.
The default budget also shows the Public Works Director receiving over $4000 MORE than 2022.
The Rec Department salaries line also increased by over $4000 over 2022.

During the recent 2024 budget process, the October 4, 2023 Selectmen meeting minutes demonstrate the incomprehensible, backwards reasoning being spewed by at least one Selectman. After forcing Town Hall employees to work faster and cheaper due to the default budget, Mr Edwards states when referring to the Assessing Technician (from the minutes) “…….if the job was done at $57,466 this year, why should we increase it to $66,872……..and why are 40 hours needed……” If we apply that thinking equally, why do the Selectmen need to increase their stipend back to $15,000 from $11,400 (default)? Why does any other department need an increase in 2024? And why are they proposing to give Gafney Library a whopping $199,000 when they got by on $111,000 in 2023?

At first glance, the 2024 Assessors budget (page 5), accepted by the Selectmen, restored Cindy’s pay and approved all Assessors requests. But it comes with a catch. The Selectmen suggested that Cindy might also do the job of the contracted Assessor, a $50,000+/yr contracted service. The contracted assessors are the folks who actually visit properties and do all the calculations. Cindy spent 25 years climbing the ladder to her present pay rate. Drastically cutting her pay in the default budget and now attempting to nearly double her workload has come with consequences. We won’t have Cindy’s expertise and helpful attitude any longer.

In a sly move, the Budget Committee recently zeroed out the 2024 ($600 each) stipend for the three Assessors even though the Selectmen had approved it. The motion to remove was made by Budget member Tom Daniels, whose biased vote attempted to push the Town into a 4.9 million dollar Rec Center debt last year. Apparently, he’s now pinching pennies….for certain people. It was seconded by Priscilla Colbath whose lengthy war with Assessor Relf Fogg continues to play out on social media.

Connect the dots and make up your own mind what’s going on here. Keep in mind that Assessor Relf Fogg has been a thumbtack in the seat of the Selectmen and Budget Committee for a long time. Note: The Conservation Commission, of which Relf is also a member, has also been cut in the proposed 2024 Budget. Essential service lines in Assessing and Conservation are being reduced while non essential services like Gafney and the Rec Dept are being jacked up.

Those who we elected to represent us continue to demonstrate biased priorities. These are the root of our division. Refusing to admit that preferential treatment exists for a few will prevent the process of correcting the cronyism. Blaming the voters seems to be the preferred escape from engaging in accountability for poor decisions.

The whistleblowers to the irony, hypocrisy, and favoritism are now being accused of “sabotage”. Meanwhile the cycle of cronyism and inequality that has gripped this Town continues to show up in our next Town budget. The process of changing this has begun. Will I support the 2024 budget? It’s a little early to tell but I’m hoping I can because rejecting it will cause further harm to those who don’t deserve it. Remember this when you vote…..and thank you Victor and Cindy for jobs well done! We will miss you.

JM

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