STOCKBRIDGEGARAGE

Stockbridge Highway Superintendent Leonard Tisdale has resigned, after the Select Board last month placed him on paid administrative leave amid concerns about his job performance.

STOCKBRIDGE — Highway Superintendent Leonard Tisdale was placed on one-week administrative leave Thursday, after the town administrator raised concerns about his “disappointing” job performance.

Responding to Town Administrator Michael Canales’ recommendation to terminate Tisdale, the Select Board instead voted 3-0 to place him on leave, with pay, pending further consultation with Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares.

The discussion of complaints against Tisdale, who was appointed to the post in 2012, was supposed to be in an executive session behind closed doors, as is typical for personnel issues. But, Tisdale chose to exercise his right to air the dispute in an open public session, held via Zoom and available at Community Television for the Southern Berkshires for on-demand viewing.

Select Board Chairman Ernest “Chuckie” Cardillo advised that there would be no public comment.

Canales, the former administrator in North Adams under Mayor Thomas Bernard, began full time in Stockbridge on Sept. 14, after a month of part-time work with outgoing interim Town Administrator Mark Webber.

At the Select Board meeting, he outlined issues involving project procurements and “a disappointing job as highway superintendent,” including violations of state laws and $2 million in state grants in possible jeopardy.

• A required procurement legal notice for a road-paving project this year was published in The Eagle only six days ahead of time, instead of the state-mandated 14 days. Another procurement project was not listed in Commbuys, the state’s online procurement system for bid solicitations. On further investigation, Canales stated, five current projects had not been properly procured, so he asked Miyares to review the procurement violations that ran afoul of state law.

• Canales rejected this year’s road-paving bids as well as a water pump restoration project that has not been awarded yet. He noted that work on the Larrywaug Bridge replacement project along Route 183 (Interlaken Road) is underway, after startup delays, but the Averic Road East Bridge replacement has been delayed until next spring.

• Three state grants worth $2 million are at stake, Canales said, since the town is responsible for managing and properly procuring the Larrywaug Bridge and Averic Road projects. He recommended reaching out to state agencies and to the state Attorney General’s Office “in order to address these concerns regarding proper procurement for each of these.”

{span}• Canales has issued several “corrective statements” citing Tisdale’s job performance, specifically lack of project oversight.

{span}• {/span}The town administrator also issued a formal reprimand on the procurement violations.

{span}• {/span}Canales voiced concern about the “lack of oversight” for the highway garage replacement, such as the lack of scheduled project meetings for a rebuild that is far behind schedule.{/span}

“I’m unsure of the role that the highway superintendent currently occupies,” he said, since “day-to-day operations have been turned over to the highway foreman and development or oversight of capital projects is not acceptable or nonexistent.”

At that point, he urged the Select Board to remove Tisdale and to reallocate money to bring in outside engineers for the projects in progress.

Canales alleged that Tisdale did not respond to suggestions to collaborate in order to “bring the work up to acceptable standards,” including calendaring of meetings, supervision of all capital projects, including documentation, and working at Town Hall on a schedule, except for site visits.

“We have a number of issues before us, so this is very concerning, because we’re talking about $2 million in state grants, so we need to reach out to the state,” he stressed, since the grants expire Dec. 30 and extensions must be requested with an explanation of “irregularities in procurement.”

Tisdale’s attorney, Jeremia Pollard, responded that procurement is not among his client’s “essential job functions” but that Tisdale had agreed to take on those responsibilities at the request of Webber, the former interim town administrator.

“What he [Tisdale] should have said was ‘No, it’s not in my bailiwick, it’s not something I’m supposed to be doing,’ ” Pollard stated. “You really need to understand the ins and outs of procurement law if you’re going to be doing that. There’s a lot to it, and he’s had no training in that, so I don’t think it’s fair.”

Pollard described Canales’ Oct. 21 recommendation to remove Tisdale as “grossly unfair, and it should not happen.”

He called for an agreed-upon definition among Canales, the Select Board and Tisdale of his role and responsibilities as highway superintendent.

“To recommend his removal when this [procurement] isn’t his job would be extremely inappropriate,” Pollard said.

Select Board member Roxanne McCaffrey cited several reprimands since Oct. 9 with corrective action suggested, adding that Tisdale’s contract requires him to work in Town Hall, “and that hasn’t happened. We’re talking about a basically insubordinate attitude from the very beginning of the new town administrator’s employment.”

Pollard stated that he has worked as an attorney for 10 towns, “and there isn’t a highway superintendent that works in the Town Hall; they can’t.” Pollard is currently town counsel for Lee.

Tisdale maintained that the construction company managing the highway garage “has almost collapsed; they haven’t been on-site, and there isn’t anything you can do to force them to come on-site.” He also insisted that he has been on location daily at the Larrywaug Bridge project.

Selectman Patrick White warned that “there’s millions of dollars of exposure here, potentially.” He told Tisdale that “if you didn’t know how to do the [procurement] work, you needed to tell us. This is a huge amount of money. There’s a lot on the line here, and I don’t get the disconnect. There’s giant exposure to the town here.”

Tisdale contended that he received positive feedback from Webber, the interim administrator, about receipts for his procurement work. “The only feedback I got was ‘great, thank you, Len.’ There should have been some checks and balances.”

White recommended getting “a written opinion from town counsel to see where we are, what our exposure is, and have them evaluate this lengthy amount of information. … I want to make sure before we take action that we’re confident we thought it through.”

“I think this is very serious, but I just don’t want to make a hasty decision based on a day of reviewing this,” he said.

The Select Board voted to resume discussion of Tisdale’s future employment during its next meeting, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and to put Tisdale on administrative leave, with pay, for the first week.

Despite Cardillo’s instruction barring public comment, several residents sought to voice support for Tisdale.

“The idea of holding somebody hostage by changing the parameters of what’s acceptable in a job is very unfair,” Sarah Horne stated. “It seems to me you’re steaming ahead without a lot of information.”

“We have a lot of information,” Cardillo responded, suggesting that letters can be submitted to the Select Board.

“A lot of us out here feel very strongly that Len is a person of high integrity and really has his heart in the town,” said Deborah Buccino, a local resident.

“We have tremendous respect for Len; there are a lot of people who have worked for Len for many years; there’s another side that must be explored in the interest of fairness for our great town of Stockbridge,” added Alison Larkin.

“The action tonight seems precipitous without all the information being presented,” Laurie Norton Moffatt said. “To suspend someone from work, with or without pay, without hearing all the details does not seem like a fair action. There seems to be a lot of information missing that people of the town should hear before action like this is taken.”

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.