WILLIAMSTOWN — A divided Select Board has taken the first step down the road to cutting ties with Town Manager Jackie Higgins.
During a Wednesday night meeting that included a closed-door session, the five-member board voted, 3-2, to find there was “cause” to terminate Higgins, according to Chairman Matthew Rouleau.
Rouleau said Thursday he and veteran Selectman Francis Covey were in the minority, but the motion passed on the strength of favorable votes of board members Jasmine Coulliard, Chris Wade and Jessica Worn.
According to Rouleau, the next step will be to provide Higgins with a formal letter outlining allegations she “deceived the board” and the committee a series of “policy violations.”
Rouleau said he believed the board’s decision hinged more on the former allegation than the latter.
“It is perceived she lied to the board about a question that was asked of her,” he said suggesting that question involved Higgins’ August arrest for driving under the influence and providing a false statement to an officer.
“The board was concerned about her honesty, I guess,” he said, noting Higgins returned to work on Thursday and no decision had yet been made about whether she will be suspended with or without pay.
“Those questions haven’t been answered,” he said, notion Higgins, who was hired in 2011, is working under a three-year employment contract that was renewed last year and runs through 2022.
Attempts to reach Higgins were unsuccessful Thursday.
Rouleau said the “split vote” raised more questions than it answered and capped a meeting that began with several residents offering “positive feedback” about Higgins’ job performance.
That portion of the meeting was relatively brief, Rouleau said the board subsequently voted to go into executive session to discuss how to handle the personnel matter.
The closed-door session lasted about 30 minutes and Rouleau said the vote to find “cause” to terminate Higgins occurred following a brief public discussion.
Rouleau said Higgins attended the special board meeting and hasn’t been relieved of her duties heading into Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting.
“It’s kind of awkward,” he said.
Rouleau said the board hasn’t yet drafted the formal letter as part of a process that will provide her the option of requesting a public hearing at which she would be free to call witnesses.
“There’s a very specific process we’ve got to go through to get this legally done,” he said.
Rouleau said he plans to proceed with caution to ensure Higgins’ rights are respected and the town is protected.
“I’ve got a feeling this is going to take a while,” he said.
All three members who voted to find cause for Higgins’ termination joined the board last year. Coulliard and Wade were elected in contested races on Town Meeting Day in March and Worn, who had previously run for a seat on the board, was appointed to fill a vacancy over the summer.
Two of the three — Coulliard and Worn — must run to retain their seats in March.
Rouleau conceded that could conceivably change the math on the board with respect to Higgins’ position, but by then it might not matter.
Rouleau said he was personally comfortable with the job Higgins has been doing and concerned about the prospect of losing an employee whose many duties include serving as the delinquent tax collector.
“That 3-2 vote opened up a pretty large hole,” he said.
Higgins has lasted far longer than many of her predecessor in a community that burned through managers at a surprising clip prior to her hiring.
Some in town have long objected to the position and frequently clashed with the people that have held it. An attempt to abolish the manager’s position made it on the ballot in 2010 and was rejected. The next year then-manager Garrett Earles voluntarily left the job and was replaced when Higgins was hired.