SHEFFIELD — The town's veteran treasurer/collector has not worked in his office since at least mid-June — and it's unclear why.
Town Administrator Assistant Alicia Dulin has been appointed interim treasurer/collector, with no end date for the position given. Dulin is listed on the Sheffield town website as the only member of treasurer/collector's office.
Michael Ovitt, who has been serving as the town's treasurer/collector for about 30 years, is "on leave," said Town Administrator Rhonda LaBombard. The circumstances surrounding Ovitt's leave, and whether he continues to be paid, are not known.
As treasurer/collector, Ovitt earned $64,243 in 2017, according to town records.
LaBombard confirmed Ovitt's absence during the June 18 Select Board meeting when Dulin was appointed interim treasurer/collector. When pressed by the audience that night on why Ovitt is on leave, LaBombard said she would not discuss the "personnel matter" publicly.
All the major players in the situation are staying silent, though past Select Board meeting minutes show tension brewing between the board and Ovitt since 2016.
Ovitt, Select Board Chairman David Smith Jr., and LaBombard have either not responded to requests or declined to comment. A public information request by The Eagle seeking employee performance reviews, grievances, merits/demerits and department audits is pending.
Piecing it together
Strain on the relationship between the Select Board and the treasurer/collector's office goes back to at least fall 2016, when the board questioned Ovitt over why the office was behind on certifying tax receipts for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 and completing a Sheffield worker's compensation premium audit. Meeting minutes recorded Ovitt saying he was "working" on them.
In September 2017, the board held an executive session meeting to discuss "complaints regarding job performance of the treasurer/collector."
One month later, on Oct. 31, 2017, Select Board members voted unanimously to hire Scanlon and Associates, a Deerfield accounting firm, to conduct an independent audit of Ovitt's office. Later in the meeting, when Ovitt is called into the room, the minutes record a series of conflicts between Ovitt and the board over orders given to the treasurer/collector's office.
The board asks Ovitt for an unidentified "file" that LaBombard was having difficulty obtaining from the office. Ovitt said the file has "nothing in it," but that he would prepare something for the next morning. Ovitt also was instructed to create a "master" employee list for the town accountant, which he questioned.
The board also appeared frustrated when Ovitt asked that Town Hall be open on a day it would typically be closed, in order to receive real estate tax payments on the final due date.
At the Nov. 21, 2017, meeting of the Select Board, member David Smith said that he attended an "audit exit meeting" where he learned that the "management issues" with the treasurer/collector's office stem from it being so far behind on work — an ongoing issue for several years, Smith reported.
LaBombard was asked to contact Melanson Heath, a Greenfield accounting firm, to discuss commissioning a "forensic audit" of the office. The audit would cost $12,000 to $15,000 and, at the Dec. 4, 2017, board meeting, members unanimously approved the expense.
Staffing trouble has been evident in the treasurer/collector's office since 2016, which began a wave of turnover in the assistant treasurer/collector's position — with two resignations, one temp and one retirement over the past two years.
In 2016, then-assistant treasurer/collector Barbara Roraback went on an unexpected medical leave. A temp was brought in to replace Roraback, who later announced that she would retire in June 2017. The Select Board hired a new assistant for the office to replace Roraback in May 2017, but a few months later, the new hire resigned.
The Select Board hired another assistant for the office, Jodi Hollingsworth, in January, but this spring, Hollingsworth became the Lanesborough treasurer and assistant collector.
Sheffield is seeking to hire another assistant to the collector/treasurer, with priority given to applications received on or before July 30.
Kristin Palpini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, 413-629-4621.