Monday, February 23, 2015

A pattern of Framingham employees paid after resigning?

By Jim Haddadin
Daily News Staff,
Posted Feb. 23, 2015

Alison Steinfeld didn’t have trouble finding work when she left her position as Framingham’s director of community and economic development in 2013.

Within days of her departure, Steinfeld, a Harvard-educated planning professional with decades of experience in the public sector, was hired as the head of Brookline’s planning department, a post that had been filled on an interim basis for months.

Steinfeld, a Brookline native, said at the time she was excited to find a position in her hometown.

"It was a terrific opportunity which I couldn’t pass up,” Steinfeld said, according to a 2013 article published in the Daily News.

But Steinfeld, who worked in Framingham for five years, did not immediately sever her relationship with the community. Steinfeld continued to receive compensation from the town for several weeks after she resigned, even as she began her new job in Brookline.

Steinfeld received gross salary payments of more than $34,000 from the town of Framingham after her last day of work. The payments were made pursuant to a confidential settlement agreement Steinfeld reached with the town.

The agreement – recently obtained by the Daily News through a request made under the state’s public records law – stipulated that Steinfeld would continue receiving her weekly gross salary of $1,974 for a period of at least four months after she vacated her job in Framingham.

Steinfeld was one of at least two Framingham employees who negotiated settlement agreements with the town in 2013. The settlements allowed the employees to continue receiving thousands of dollars in compensation after they relinquished their positions.

The settlements also contain confidentiality clauses that prevent the employees from discussing the payments they received – provisions that effectively shielded the agreements from public knowledge until earlier this year, after the newspaper requested copies of the records.

Similar confidentiality clauses have come under fire in the past from government transparency advocates in Massachusetts, who argue secret settlements keep taxpayers in the dark about government spending. For years, the state attorney general's office has also advised government agencies to avoid using gag orders in settlements with public employees.

Framingham Town Counsel Christopher J. Petrini defended the practice Friday, however, saying non-disclosure agreements are sometimes appropriate when resolving employment cases.

“It depends on the circumstances and the case,” Petrini said. “Sometimes with personnel matters, they can be sensitive, and it’s an appropriate clause to use.”

Steinfeld's resignation came amid a tumultuous period in town government.

In 2012, Framingham selectmen installed new town manager Robert Halpin, a former Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce president who was tapped for his background in both municipal management and economic development. A slew of division directors departed in the months that followed, including Assessor Dan Dargon, Assistant Town Manager David Williams, Facilities Management Director Eric Heideman and Planning Board Director Jay Grande.

Steinfeld was appointed to a three-year term in 2011, and was due to continue serving in her role as community and economic development director through at least April 2014. She departed the position nine months early after finalizing a settlement with the town.

Steinfeld did not return calls or an email last week seeking comment on her decision. After her resignation was announced, Steinfeld earned praise from colleagues for her work to revitalize Framingham’s downtown. She also shepherded housing projects, the town’s Brownfield redevelopment and the "Choose Framingham" campaign.

“I’m sure she’s going to do well in Brookline," Mike Gatlin, chairman of the Economic Development and Industrial Corp., said at the time. "I’m envious that they have her."

Ethan Mascoop, the former director of the health department, also resigned after signing a settlement agreement with the town in April 2013. Mascoop agreed to give up his position at the town's request, according to the settlement, believing that a "mutually acceptable settlement of this matter is preferable to an outright termination or litigation between the parties."

Mascoop formally resigned on April 12, 2013, but continued to receive weekly salary payments through June 28, 2013. The gross payments totaled more than $19,000.

Mascoop was not expected to be physically present at work during that period, though he was required to continue monitoring his email account and telephone to keep the town manager and the Board of Health apprised of the status of grants and other projects that were already in the works, according to the agreement.

Mascoop declined at the time to comment on his resignation. Halpin told a Daily News reporter that Mascoop had resigned for “personal reasons.” He offered similar comments to a correspondent for The Boston Globe, saying that Mascoop would “prefer not to discuss” the decision.

Halpin did not respond last week to multiple requests for comment. During an interview Friday with the Daily News, Mascoop recalled that it was his choice to leave the health department in 2013 after an exhausting few years. Mascoop was instrumental in helping spur the closure of the General Chemical Corp. facility in Framingham, a decision town and school officials, neighbors and environmental advocates hailed as a major victory.

Mascoop, now an adjunct faculty member at Boston University, said he was eager to pursue a teaching career, and to spend time with family.

Mascoop declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding the settlement, saying it is a personnel matter between himself and the town.

“I can say that I had a wonderful relationship with the people I worked with,” Mascoop said. “Even to this day, I can assure you, from the Board of Health and others, there’s very cordial, very wonderful, very professional relationships.”

Board of Health Chairman Michael Hugo said last week that he was unaware of the 2013 agreement between Mascoop and the town. Hugo said Mascoop’s resignation came as a surprise.

“I thought that he was doing a good job,” Hugo said. “I think that he was very helpful to us on a lot of levels, and he, I guess, just decided that it was time for him to move on.”

NOTE: The amount of $100,000 and a one-year leave of absence was given to former Building Commissioner, Michael Foley. He had resigned a year after the Channel 4 I-Team reported in November 2011 of allegations of official misconduct.

The District Attorney's investigation, in November 2012, revealed that Mr. Foley improperly inflated his mileage reimbursement, failed to maintain an appropriate work schedule, and extended various financiaI benefits to "friends" in his official capacity as Building Commissioner. It was no secret that he played golf each Wednesday afternoon during the season. Often he would be off on Fridays. DA said that "Most troubling is the fact that Mr. Foley's activities were well known and tolerated; in some instances for years, not only by those subordinate to Mr. Foley but also by persons tasked with oversight responsibility for enforcing the policies and procedures for Town of Framingham employees. In essence, it appears that Mr. Foley had some form of tacit approval to conduct business in this matter."

     Are Town officials protecting themselves and their special people instead of the well-being of the taxpaying public?

Please go to: