BRANDON — The attorney for the town’s former director of public works, who resigned in August amid questions about a $22,000 payment made to him that the town claims was improper, says it was for back-mileage and that he’s entitled to it.
Attorney Peter Langrock, of Langrock Sperry & Wool, LLP, a firm with offices in Burlington and Middlebury, said Monday that he represents Daryl Burlett, former Brandon director of public works and Segment Six municipal project manager.
“Of course Mr. Burlett did not do anything criminal,” said Langrock. “He submitted an invoice, it was approved, and paid.”
He said the mileage was incurred over a “long period of time,” though he didn’t have the exact dates available. He said the miles themselves aren’t being disputed, but whether or not Burlett was entitled to reimbursement for them, which he maintains that Burlett is.
Burlett resigned on Aug. 22. On Aug. 26, the Select Board was questioned about the matter at its regular meeting by members of the public, prompting it to release a statement the following day saying that Burlett had resigned and that it’s trying to resolve an issue with a payment to Burlett for $22,011.
Burlett served as public works director for four years and had been the Segment Six municipal project manager, a role Town Manager David Atherton will serve until the project’s completion. It began in earnest last year, and is expected to have its finishing touches done in the spring of 2020. Segment Six is a $20 million overhaul of Route 7 and connected infrastructure through Brandon’s downtown. It’s 80% federally funded.
The town’s attorney in this matter is Constance Tryon Pell, of the Middlebury firm Carroll, Boe & Pell, P.C. Langrock said he spoke with her Monday and has asked that she outline the town’s position. He’ll then talk it over with his client and proceed from there.
Pell did not return a voicemail left for her on Monday. At the Sept. 9 Select Board meeting, the board was once again questioned about the payment, prompting town officials to say that changes have been made to the way the town processes checks.
“Steps have been taken to ensure this will not happen again,” said Select Board Chairman Seth Hopkins. “The process, as it was, has been revised.”
He elaborated in an interview on Monday saying that no longer will town employees be able to approve their own expenses. He said the town will also make better use of the seven-day window it has to approve payments connected with the Segment Six project.
“I think we now have a pretty clear understanding of what happened, and I would like to leave it at that,” Hopkins said.
He declined to elaborate on what his understanding of the situation is, exactly, saying he fears jeopardizing the town’s legal position and possibly interfering with a swift resolution to the issue.
He said at the Sept. 9 meeting that he expects taxpayers will not end up losing anything.
“I am 100% confident that the town has done nothing inappropriate and this conflict will be resolved in a manner that the taxpayers will be held harmless,” he said. “There will be no loss.”
Charles Powell, a member of the audience at the Sept. 9 meeting, had several questions for the board about the procedures the town uses for making payments.
Hopkins, at the meeting, explained that, normally, a contractor will generate an invoice and send it to the town for processing. In this case, since there was no contractor generating an invoice, the contractor for Segment Six wouldn’t necessarily have seen it, nor would the inspecting engineers.
“Then, the municipal project manager has to look at and examine, and approve or disapprove the bills that have come from the contractor and the inspecting engineers. That’s Mr. Burlett. He signed that, he authorized it. At that point it goes to the bookkeeper for the checks to be prepared,” said Hopkins.
The paperwork then goes to the town treasurer, said Hopkins. Normally, the checks the treasurer is looking at have been approved by department heads. Ultimately, the payments find their way onto a list that goes before the Select Board, referred to as the “warrants.” Once the board signs the warrants, the money can go out.
“That’s when the Select Board becomes responsible, when we authorize the town treasurer to disperse taxpayers’ money,” said Hopkins. “We declined to do that in this instance, as the minutes reflect.”
The Select Board first became aware of this issue when it was presented with the warrants for July.
The town’s normal process can take up to three weeks, given how often the board meets, said Hopkins.
“With the Route 7, because of this federal prompt pay, there are occasions when the board meets after checks have been dispersed, and that was a procedure that we entered into after being advised by the (Vermont) League of Cities and Towns that that’s an appropriate way to meet the prompt pay requirement.”
“Prompt pay” refers to the Prompt Pay Act, the federal law governing how quickly payments need to be made on federally funded projects.