SWANSEA — Jeffrey Sutherland of Somerset was voted as the assistant superintendent of the Swansea Water District by a 2-1 vote during the meeting of the board Monday night.
Brian Clark motioned to name Jeffrey Sutherland as the assistant superintendent with Bruce Sutherland seconding that motion, just as they had done three weeks ago, but this time a vote was taken with Chairman James Hall voting against the hire.
Sutherland will work as the assistant to Superintendent Robert Marquis until Marquis's retirement in February at which time he would become the superintendent.
The discussion included concerns voiced by some of the residents who were in attendance to hear the vote and also the talk over dirty water complaints. Resident Matthew Barbosa was on the agenda to speak about the assistant superintendent position as well as the dirty water issue in town. (See related story)
Barbosa read a synopsis of the ongoing discussion up to this point, pointing out, that although Bruce Sutherland had disclosed his relationship with the candidate, it did not eliminate the conflict of interest.
"You have to be impartial and unbiased on how you vote," Barbosa said.
Several other residents spoke out after the vote questioning how a person with no certifications could be voted over someone who did. One commented that could not happen in any place they have ever worked.
Chairman Hall spoke out in defense of his colleagues and Jeffrey Sutherland, pointing out that the new assistant superintendent should not be penalized because he is the nephew of Bruce Sutherland. The chairman added that he had confidence that Jeffrey Sutherland will be able to learn under Superintendent Robert Marquis.
Commissioner Clark had said from the start that he would like someone who will be with the District for years to come and had confidence in Sutherland who he knew as an intelligent hard worker. Clark added that time was running short with Supt. Marquis planning to retire in February. He noted that Sutherland would be working with the lead operators to bring operations together.
Commissioner Sutherland felt the same way and also felt that the District was in need of a change in the management style. Since Jeffrey Sutherland does not have the certifications, two men currently leading their respective departments would be promoted to lead operators in distribution and treatment.
Joshua Cestodio, the son-in-law of Commissioner Sutherland, has the certifications in distribution and Michael Bacon has the treatment side covered. Commissioner Sutherland had contacted the Ethics Commission regarding the vote that would affect both his nephew and son-in-law and was told that he could vote since neither was an "immediate family member."
The changes along with the employment agreement would be part of the discussion during the next meeting of the Water District Board on July 10.
Jeffrey Sutherland noted that he was excited to get started.
"I know that there was some concern in the community," Jeff Sutherland said. "I am looking forward to getting started and put the people at ease."
The other candidate, Paul Ferland, was also present at the meeting and was disappointed with the decision.
"I am not excited about the way it worked out," Ferland said. "I definitely still do not feel that the board was fair and impartial."
When asked if he planned to pursue this further, Ferland said "no comment."
Prior to the vote, Chairman Hall suggested that the board start over and advertise for a superintendent with at least 10 years experience. He suggested advertising for someone who already has experience with desalination plants. Hall suggested a salary line of $110,000 to $130,000.
The assistant position was advertised at $85,000 and required that the applicants have certification in the areas of treatment and distribution or were within one year of getting that certification. Sutherland does not have certifications, being stuck in a Catch-22 where he would first have to work in a Grade 4 system. He is a professional engineer working with a firm that does treatment plants and water systems. Ferland works for the Fall River Water Department and has the certifications and awaits full status in treatment.
There was some debate between Chairman Hall and Commissioner Sutherland as to whether Clark should make another motion. Hall noted that he has spoken to the Water District counsel who said that when the last meeting was adjourned, it cancelled the motion. Sutherland felt that only the meeting was adjourned and that the motion would carry over to the next meeting.
Clark eventually made the motion again with Sutherland following with the second.