G&E board, Granahan 'lawyer up' for dispute over manager's status
May 10, 2012
By JANE LOPES, Editor
MIDDLEBORO — Gas and electric commissioners voted Tuesday night to hire labor counsel to represent them in a dispute over whether General Manager John Granahan has a valid contract or is even legally the manager of the department.
The commission voted to hire the firm of Collins, Loughren and Peloquin, the town's labor counsel.
"Basically (Leo Peloquin) will represent the commission, since the general manager has two attorneys," said Commission Chairman John Healey.
The stage was set for possible legal action Tuesday night as the commission responded to a letter from one of Mr. Granahan's lawyers, Seth Hochbaum of Wakefield, asserting that the 2009 contract signed by Mr. Granahan and then Commission Chairman Donald Triner is legal and binding.
The commission voted Tuesday night to tell Mr. Hochbaum they disagree. They said they will allow Mr. Granahan to continue to perform management functions, but that they are "not conceding in any way that he is the general manager," Mr. Healey said.
Mr. Healey, the former town manager who was elected to the commission last month, said a review of all the commission's open session and executive session minutes — the latter were just released last month — indicated the commission never voted to appoint Mr. Granahan as manager, nor did commissioners approve his contract.
The previous commission was in the midst of negotiating a new contract with the general manager when the election took place last month. Mr. Triner decided at the last minute not to seek reelection, and Commissioner Terrence Murphy also stepped down. Mr. Healey and Glenn Montapert were elected to replace them. The new commission voted Tuesday night to suspend contract talks until after a forensic audit is completed.
The audit, which will be undertaken after the commission interviews CPA firms on May 17, will involve all department records and funds, including operating funds, pension funds, rate stabilization and depreciation funds, and money that is being held by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Company.
Questions have been raised by the new commissioners and by other local residents about how the G&E has invested funds through MMWEC and how it has placed funds in various accounts. The department reduced both gas and electric charges to customers six times over the past two years, in most cases after critics raised questions about how the G&E's rates compared with other municipal utilities.
The audit will also look at expense account policies. Mr. Granahan's practice of staying in area hotels and being reimbursed by the G&E — during storm events and after late meetings, he told the commission last month — have been called into question. Questions have also been raised about Mr. Triner's expenses by former selectman Lincoln Andrews, who has obtained copies of the former chairman's charges and reimbursements.
Mr. Andrews has said the chairman attended two- or three-day conventions but was reimbursed for longer periods of time. Tuesday night, he told the commission Mr. Triner had the G&E pay his Rotary Club dues and was also reimbursed for meals at the club's weekly meetings.
Mr. Healey said he anticipates a response from Mr. Granahan's attorneys to the letter the commission voted to send Tuesday night, basically saying the commissioners do not believe Mr. Granahan has a legal contract with the G&E.
The general manager's second attorney is Peter Ball of Boston, "concentrates his practice in the representation of clients in white-collar criminal matters, government investigations and complex civil litigation" according to his online profile.
The commission will hold its regular monthly meeting next Wednesday night.