Town Hall

Absentee ballots are available at Clarksburg Town Hall for the Dec. 7 special election to fill a seat on the Select Board.

CLARKSBURG — After Clarksburg’s longtime treasurer departed in December, the town struggled to manage its payments.

Overdrawn accounts, incorrect paychecks and temporarily suspended life insurance policies led to concerns from members of the Northern Berkshire School Union, among others who rely on town government.

But, people in and around town government say the town has the money and its problems stemmed from flaws in the bookkeeping process, not a lack of money. Clarksburg has begun to address those issues, with the help of an outside consultant it hired in August.

But, public displays of tension within town government have complicated matters. At an Aug. 25 Select Board meeting, Ron Boucher, then chairman of the board, expressed frustration with Town Administrator Rebecca Stone over Stone’s handling of bookkeeping issues. Stone walked out of the meeting, which was recorded by Northern Berkshire Community Television, and has not returned to Town Hall.

Boucher, who apologized at the meeting for the “outburst,” resigned from the board a week later, citing changes in his personal life. Danielle Luchi now chairs the Select Board, which is down to two members.

Stone has been on extended sick leave, Luchi said, and Luchi is filling some of the town administrator’s duties to ensure day-to-day functioning of Town Hall. But, she said she is “by no means an acting town administrator.”

In a phone call, Luchi referenced comments she made to iBerkshires but said she did not have time for an extended interview.

John Franzoni, superintendent of the Northern Berkshire School Union, said he acknowledges that the town’s bookkeeping issues are “in the process of being fixed.”

Still, after the recent leadership changes, he said it remains important for the town and school union to work together as they face a decision to make over the fate of Clarksburg Elementary School.

“We have really been going very close to a month now in Clarksburg without the leaders that have been there the last couple of years,” he said, referring to Boucher and Stone. “We appreciate that we have a new treasurer who has made improvements and a new Select Board chair who says she’s doing the best she can. My concern is that we need an interim town administrator.”

Luchi declined to comment on whether the town plans to hire an interim town administrator.

The elementary school needs improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Franzoni said, but he said the town would need to obtain a bond rating in order to pursue the necessary grants. Luchi said she could not comment on what the town must do to obtain a bond rating, and Treasurer Amy Cariddi did not return communications The Eagle left Wednesday and Thursday.

The only alternative to upgrades at the school, Franzoni said, is to enter discussions for a regional arrangement with North Adams.

“This issue has really been kicked down the road a long time in Clarksburg, and there needs to be a decision,” Franzoni said. “The future for our school in Clarksburg is there only if we work together.”

Bookkeeping issues

The town’s bookkeeping issues began after former Treasurer Ericka Oleson’s departure, which Boucher called “a big loss for the town.” Oleson, who held the position for four years, left in December to become treasurer in Stockbridge.

There has been a complete turnover in Town Hall staff in the past two years, Boucher said, and he has heard “the same complaints from the new employees as I did from the old employees,” he said at the Aug. 25 meeting.

The loss of “key employees,” he told The Eagle, has hurt the town.

“It’s of course easier when you’ve had someone who’s been doing the job for a few years,” Boucher said. “Departures are hard, because you have to hope you’re lucky and find someone with the right skills and experience.”

In late January, the town hired Darcy Feder, then an assistant manager at TD Bank in Williamstown, as treasurer. Feder switched positions with Cariddi in August, with Feder becoming the administrative assistant and Cariddi taking over as treasurer.

The town also hired Hill-Town Municipal Accounting Services in August to help with closing out the books for fiscal year 2021. Terry Green, of Hill-Town, said at the Aug. 25 Select Board meeting that when she visited the office, she saw “really no organization, basically no rhyme or reason where things were, mail that had not been opened since March.”

“People that have resigned or no longer work for the town, you guys are still paying for their medical insurance,” Green said at the meeting. “You’re still paying for a list of things, and those have to be reconciled.”

Franzoni highlighted the impact of the bookkeeping issues on the school union in a Sept. 16 joint meeting between the Select Board and the School Committee. The school union likely will miss an Oct. 1 deadline to file its financial report with the state, Franzoni said, because it first needs the town to close its books on fiscal year 2021.

Among other examples he listed were that schools could not use a grant to purchase needed equipment because the town’s Amazon account was maxed out, and employees received notices that their life insurance policies were canceled — but, since then, have been reinstated — because the town was not making payments.

The town had reached its spending limit of $10,000 on its Amazon account, and its emergency-use credit card also had hit its limit, Cariddi told iBerkshires. She said the town now has made its payments.

Franzoni said the school union remains “confident that we can still access these funds” it received through a grant from the United Way.

“We just need a process that will allow payments to be made in a timely manner,” Franzoni said. “Our districts don’t receive the funding that a lot of larger districts do, so, we’re really reliant on these grants, and that’s something we need the town for to stay current on its payments.”

He added that Stone had worked with the school union on grants for Americans with Disabilities Act improvements and for energy-efficient lighting for the Town Hall and elementary school. Stone’s leave, which he said is “none of my business,” has him concerned over who in Town Hall is stepping in to continue that work.

Stone became town administrator in late 2019, after the Select Board picked her over Lisa Blackmer, and her contract expires in October 2022.

While Franzoni said he believes that Clarksburg needs an interim town administrator, Boucher said he believes that the Select Board can manage with the town administrator out. Boucher himself helped to fill in the gaps after former Town Administrator Carl McKinney resigned in May 2019, he said.

Boucher said he remains confident that the town is on the right path.

“Everybody who’s employed by the town of Clarksburg is doing a good job — that was true three weeks ago when I was there, at least,” Boucher said. “We had a little problem, but we took the steps to resolve it.”

Regarding the future of Clarksburg Elementary School, Franzoni said he has spoken with Luchi about the possibility of including a nonbinding ballot question in December’s special election to fill Boucher’s seat on the Select Board. The question would ask residents to decide between pursuing improvements to the school and contacting with North Adams about a potential regional agreement.

The special election is scheduled for Dec. 7.

Danny Jin, a Report for America corps member, is The Eagle’s Statehouse news reporter. He can be reached at djin@berkshireeagle.com, @djinreports on Twitter and 413-496-6221.

Statehouse reporter

Danny Jin is the Eagle's Statehouse reporter. A graduate of Williams College, he previously interned at The Eagle and The Christian Science Monitor.