Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
Beth David, Editor
When the Fairhaven Selectboard chose Wendy Graves in 2013 as its pick for the finance director/ treasurer/collector position, the deciding factor was the 15 years of municipal finance experience Ms. Graves indicated. Nearly seven years later, Ms. Graves is currently serving as the appointed interim town administrator and waits for the Town Administrator Search Committee to include her as a possible finalist for permanent TA.
However, Ms. Graves has a track record of resignations from past positions under dubious circumstances that remained essentially undisclosed to the public during her hiring process, in addition to a consistent pattern of personal finance mismanagement that resulted in several civil actions, all of which the Neighb News uncovered during a routine online search of Ms. Graves’s qualifications.
At least six cases in Worcester District Court and Worcester Superior Court name Ms. Graves as a defendant for non-payment of credit card debt, failure to appear, defaults for failure to appear, and at least two capiases (orders for her arrest), one as recent as 2018.
A letter obtained by the Neighb News and written in November, 2018, by recently retired Town Administrator Mark Rees cites these cases as a reason Ms. Graves might not be able to be bonded and informs her of a notice to terminate, or not renew her contract. Ms. Graves has remained on the job, and is no longer on a contract, but is on the non-union classification and compensation plan at a Level 21, Step 9, which is $2,222 per week/$115,544 annually.
In the letter dated 11/8/2018, Mr. Rees wrote, “Your failure to pay these debts and appear in court on multiple occasions shows a pattern of poor judgment and decision making directly related to your job duties as Finance Director and Treasurer/ Collector with the Town. These acts amount to conduct unbecoming a municipal employee in your position….”
Mr. Rees indicated that she would likely not be terminated immediately, rather the Town would not be extending her employment with the Town beyond 120 days.
The letter refers to an interview on 10/25/18 conducted by special counsel Jaime Kenny investigating allegations of harassment in the workplace made against her, the existence of four pending court actions against her on behalf of four creditors totaling $85,000, with two of them resulting in capias (arrest) orders for failure to appear in court, in addition to a failure to pay her federal taxes.
In a subsequent letter dated 1/29/19, Mr. Rees wrote that while the investigation did not yield evidence of unlawful harassment or workplace violence, there was some evidence of “creating a hostile workplace.”
He further disclosed a “failure to pay federal taxes,” continuing to write, “As a public official entrusted in collecting current and delinquent taxes of Fairhaven residents and businesses, disclosure of this information would compromise your ability to effectively carry out your duties.” In addition, he noted, her ability to be bonded as per state law could also be affected by her circumstances.
In that letter, Mr. Rees offered to allow Ms. Graves to keep her position if she furnished evidence of addressing her personal financial problems via proof of making payment plan payments on her defaulted debt, and documentation from the IRS demonstrating that Ms. Graves was addressing her federal tax delinquency.
In the letter, Mr. Rees also requested documentation that Ms. Graves had been legally bonded after she submitted a copy of a private bond she allegedly secured that he noted had since been canceled.
Ms. Graves responded in a 2/4/19 letter to Mr. Rees summarizing that the investigation’s final report showed “there wasn’t enough evidence to be illegal,” adding that Mr. Rees “suggested that a third party would work with me on a plan regarding my personal finances.”
She also expressed opposition to submitting the proof Mr. Rees requested, writing, “Handing over all this personal information to you seems to be very intrusive and I don’t trust what will be done with the information going forward.”
She offered to submit proof of bonding to the Selectboard if the board asked for it, “[B]ut I hesitate to provide any information to you because it has become apparent to me that the bond of trust has been broken.”
She then asked for a hearing before the Selectboard to appeal her impending termination. The Neighb News has been unable to find any documentation of that hearing taking place. However, Charles K. Murphy, Sr., who was a selectboard member at the time, said he recalled that a hearing of that kind took place.
“I believe there was a hearing going on but I was not present because of the death of my mother,” said Mr. Murphy, who is no longer on the board. “I am not aware of what happened in the hearing, and don’t have minutes from it.”
A phone call to Mr. Rees was not returned by press time.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola, who was also on the board at the time of the alleged hearing, said in an email that he was “not at liberty to discuss anything that may have taken place in executive session that has not been approved for release by our Board.”
Selectboard chairperson Daniel Freitas, who was also on the board during the time frame in question, wrote: “I will not comment on this article until I speak with our attorney. Some of the questions you have asked are false and I don’t want to get in the middle of a lawsuit without council [sic] telling me what I can answer too. You may want to ask yourself why she still is employed by the town if all that information was is in fact true? If I can get ahold of council [sic] I’d gladly do a three way call.”
Selectboard member Keith Silvia, who was not on the board during the time in question, but did vote to make Ms. Graves the interim TA, also did not answer an email by press time.
Ms. Graves gave a point-by-point response to a series of questions from the Neighb News via email (her full statement is at the end of this article).
In it, she said she experienced “personal financial hardships” due to a personal relationship “dissolving.” She said she was unaware of the capiases that had been issued, but claims she resolved the matter as soon as she found out.
When Ms. Graves was interviewed on 3/18/13 and appointed as finance director on 3/25/13, there was no discussion of her experience as town accountant of two years for the Town of Medway in 2005, or her resignation from the position. Nor was there mention of her resignation as treasurer for the City of Taunton in 2012 in under two years on the job, her last position before applying with Fairhaven.
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) performed a Financial Management Review on the Town of Medway, and a copy of that September 2005 final report is available on the internet. The report revealed multiple examples of financial mismanagement and poor department oversight that led to a significant budget deficit. The report further states that the town accountant’s (Ms. Graves) “false statement about the deficits” led to a series of requirements that resulted in Medway joining “a limited group of 11 communities that have been sanctioned due to their unreliable financial submissions.”
The report also found that the accountant (Ms. Graves), under the direction of the town administrator, transferred funding from a wage settlement account to various department budgets to cover contractual increases, which was an illegal action.
The report also emphasized the dire impact on the budget from Ms. Graves’s and prior accountants’ underperformance of accounting functions such as providing revenue and expenditure reports, maintaining information of town debt, and reconciling cash and receivables with the treasurer/collector, among other duties.
“Unfortunately, the town accountant’s office has not been able to adequately carry out these duties in recent years,” reads the report, citing high turnover in the department, “insufficient training and experience, and a lack of supervisory or managerial guidance.”
The report cites numerous and consistent failures in various reporting that is necessary for keeping track of expenditures and planning for future budgets.
“Consequently, the lack of timely and accurate financial reports has resulted in a widespread level of frustration and lack of reliance on the information provided,” reads the report. “Also, based on preliminary FY 2005 closing information, it appears that the town has ten overdrawn accounts that will have to be provided for before setting it FY2006 tax rate.”
Because Medway filed its FY2003 year-end fiscal statement of revenues and expenditures late, the report states that the town’s third-quarterly state aid distribution of $1,755,682 was withheld for a month. As a result of failing to timely reconcile receivables and certify free cash, the town’s 6/30/04 balance sheet submission reflected an $870,290 deficit in free cash “that was negatively impacted by non-reconciling receivables, a revenue deficit, and overdrawn capital projects.”
Ms. Graves said in her email response to the Neighb News that she had left her position prior to the DOR review and report.
“Given that I don’t have a copy of the report, I don’t recall accusations concerned with me personally,” wrote Ms. Graves. “That said, I have always worked with the best interest of the community in performing my official duties and I have never intentionally done something that was incorrect.”
Ms. Graves also said she was aware of the letter of intent to terminate, but that the issue of her getting bonded was resolved. She said the town had bonded her and she acquired a bond personally.
“In response, the recommendation of the Town Administrator did not go forward,” she wrote.
Ms. Graves resigned from her job as treasurer for the City of Taunton, as announced during the Taunton City Council’s 12/24/12 meeting and reported by The Taunton Gazette. According to the article dated 12/24/12 titled “Taunton’s treasurer resigning” by Charles Winokoor, Ms. Graves “has agreed in principle to resign.” The article further states, “Sources close to City Hall recently have suggested Graves was ill-prepared for the job in the Silver City.”
It cites City Councilor David Barbour as commenting, “‘It’s not easy stepping into that job. Taunton has a large comercial (sic) base,’ said Barbour, who also pointed out that Graves had to endure a daily commute of more than an hour each way.”
Ms. Graves has a robust history of personal finance mismanagement, as documented in the court files from four civil cases and two Supplementary Actions from the Worcester County District Court.
The Neighb News gained copies of the public records, which revealed that a Supplementary Action filed as recently as 9/26/17 resulted in the judge issuing a capias order for Ms. Graves’s arrest that only expired on 5/2/2020 after exceeding the two-year timeframe.
That Supplementary Process stemmed from a civil action filed on 1/13/15 by Midland Funding, LLC to collect $14,593 in debt accrued on a Citibank/Sears Mastercard. This was the only one out of six court actions that Ms. Graves responded to, which resulted in an $8,000 settlement and an agreement to make monthly payments.
In a 2/25/15 signed letter included in the court file, Ms. Graves stated that she stopped making payments on her credit card because “I got caught up with a very bad man that took my money to pay for his drugs and things got so bad that I lost my job.”
At that time Ms. Graves had been employed by the Town of Fairhaven for a few days shy of two years.
Ms. Graves subsequently defaulted on that agreement and the judge later issued a default judgment against her for $14,593. On 9/26/17 the plaintiff filed a Supplementary Process action and the judge issued a capias order for her arrest on 5/2/18, which expired on 5/2/20.
Discover Bank filed a civil action on 3/25/15 for $10,975, which she did not respond or appear for, resulting in a subsequent 5/15/18 complaint naming the City of Taunton, her former employer, as a trustee defendant. A 7/13/18 motion by the defendant to garnish Ms. Graves’s wages was subsequently removed from the action on 1/22/19. The default judgment against Ms. Graves was for $14,533.
A Superior Court action was filed on 11/29/17 by Cavalry Portfolio Services. LLC, to recover $35,574. Ms. Graves did not respond or appear in court and the judge issued a default judgment against her.
Another civil action was filed by Midland Funding for a Barclay’s credit card on 3/2/18 for $24,041, which Ms. Graves did not respond to or appear in court for, resulting in a default judgment against her.
Mr. Espindola declined to comment on Ms. Graves’s financial difficulties, writing, “I can not confirm or deny any of these things you are referring to regarding creditors and bonding without first having the opportunity to track back through all Executive Session minutes since Ms. Graves has been hired and, if something were to be found, to determine what could or could not be released to the press.”
He did note, however that the DOR report is public information and he was made aware of it “at some point along the way.”
Mr. Espindola also said he believed his reasons for not wanting to hire Ms. Graves as the Interim TA were clear, as he stated in the meeting: He felt that they should use the retiring TA’s salary to hire an outside person, and, due to the pandemic, the town should not run short-staffed (by moving Ms. Graves from her current position), and the consultant recommended using an outside person.
Mr. Espindola said his comments were for the interim TA appointment only: “When Selectman Freitas revealed that Ms. Graves was on the list for the permanent TA position and I realized that we could then be interviewing her along side other candidates, I determined that it would be unfair to comment any further on her one way or the other, giving her the same consideration every candidate deserves. To be clear, I have no knowledge of any of the other candidates in the screening process from start to current time (not even names).”
Find the Medway DOR report at https://www.mass.gov/doc/medway-financial-management-review-september-2005/download and the Taunton Gazette article at: https://www.tauntongazette.com/article/20121224/NEWS/312249930
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