SHEFFIELD — Turbulence in the treasurer/collector's office seems to have settled after the appointment of a new tax official and assistant during this week's Select Board meeting.
The board appointed interim treasurer/collector Alicia Dulin to fulfill the role on a permanent basis, at Monday night's meeting. Dulin was the assistant to the town administrator before being appointed to the interim position over the summer. The board also appointed Monique Belair to be assistant to the treasurer/collector.
Mystery has surrounded the leadership of the treasurer/collector's office ever since longtime Sheffield treasurer/collector Michael Ovitt was either put on or opted to take leave. Ovitt headed the tax office for more than 30 years when his leave became public at the June 18 Select Board meeting where Dulin was appointed interim treasurer/collector.
Ovitt has not returned phone calls seeking comment, and Town Administrator Rhonda LaBombard has declined to elaborate on what Ovitt being "on leave" means or whether he was paid during that time. As treasurer/collector, Ovitt earned $64,243 in 2017, according to town records.
"We all really want to extend our thanks and appreciation for the job [Dulin] has done," said Select Board member Rene Wood. "She just really stepped in and has taken on, very well, not only the position, but the new software [the treasurer/collector's office] is working on getting installed.
"She's really done an incredible job."
Dulin and Belair were appointed unanimously and without discussion, but at least one member of the audience wanted to know more about what happened with Ovitt and what the hiring process for the new treasurer/collector was like. Bob Kilmer, owner of Twin Rivers Farm, said he heard there were qualified applicants for the position who didn't receive an interview, and he questioned whether the job should have been posted.
"That, to me, is concerning. I would assume it's concerning to most people, but you don't seem to be concerned about it. Maybe there's something going on that I'm not aware of," Kilmer said. "I want to make sure these applicants were given a fair shake and that procedures were followed."
"Procedures were followed," said Select Board Chairman David Smith. He did not return a request for comment from The Eagle after Monday night's meeting.
Strain on the relationship between the Select Board and the treasurer/collector's office dates 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.
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.
Public records requests made by The Eagle seeking performance reviews, grievances and any potential audits of the department were denied by the town. In her response, LaBombard cited state public record law that exempts many employee personnel documents from disclosure.
Kristin Palpini can be reached at email@example.com, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, 413-629-4621.