Vacation time at issue in dispute between Southampton and former fire chief Stephen J. Hyde Sr.
SOUTHAMPTON — A dispute between the town and its former fire chief has brought to light a lack of oversight of employee vacation time. The issue was corrected as of Jan. 1, said Assistant Treasurer Robin Richard, when a personnel bylaw change made it possible for the town to accurately track employees’ vacation time.
The Board of Selectmen and Stephen J. Hyde Sr. disagree about the amount of pay he is due for vacation time following the board’s decision not to renew his contract as fire chief in June 2012. He believes he is owed nine weeks, but the board voted to pay him for five.
Because town bylaws previously did not require employees to fill out time sheets to document their hours worked or vacation, sick or personal time used, the town did not have a record of Hyde’s vacation time. Instead, the board relied on memos and members’ own recollections to determine how much vacation time Hyde used in his last year of employment.
“Employees weren’t required to hand in time sheets until Jan. 1. Before that, some did and some didn’t,” Richard said Monday. “This has just made it a lot easier to track everything.”
She said that the Personnel Board voted in December to change the personnel bylaw partly to prevent disputes over time owed, but mostly just to be consistent “across the board” by requiring the same thing of all employees. She is the clerk of the board.
“The department heads are still responsible for what happens with vacation time, but now I’m keeping track of it, too,” she said.
She noted that for departments such as highway and police, she does not keep track of how much vacation time they are supposed to have, just how much is used. Vacation time for appointed, non-union town employees is based on longevity and outlined in the town’s personnel bylaws.
Hyde said he never received a check for vacation time after his sudden dismissal from his job in June, so starting in the fall he wrote a series of letters to the Select Board requesting compensation for nine weeks. The board asked him to document how he came by that number, which they said he did not do.
“Since we didn’t get any documentation on this, we did our own research,” Highway Superintendent and Select Board member Edward J. Cauley told the board at a Jan. 22 meeting. “We got a letter from the Police Department stating there was one week he took off. And if you remember, we had an issue where he was on vacation for two weeks and we didn’t have anyone to do inspections.”
For those reasons, the board determined Hyde was owed one week for the last fiscal year, and after adding in the four weeks they said he had accrued for this fiscal year, the board voted unanimously to pay Hyde for five weeks of vacation time.
Hyde questions the board’s decision.
“They don’t know if I was using personal time or sick time. They don’t have a clue, all they have is hearsay,” he said. “If the police say I wasn’t there, it doesn’t mean I’m on vacation.”
His contract does not enumerate how many weeks of vacation time he gets. It states only that he will receive the same benefits as other full-time department heads with his longevity. He assumed his annual vacation allowance was around five weeks, though he never clarified that.
Meanwhile, Hyde said he is collecting unemployment and looking for work, but his bad split from the town is still affecting him.
When the Select Board ousted him, member David McDougall said he was disappointed with the progression of the department and wanted new leadership, but the board would not explain further.
The Gazette requested in June 2012 and again on Feb. 6 that the board release the minutes of the private meeting regarding Hyde’s employment. The town’s attorney stated that, among other reasons, the minutes could not be released because they include highly personal details about an individual and because doing so could compromise ongoing law enforcement, litigation, or an investigation or trial.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.