ANDOVER -- Andover Youth Services programs are set to resume Tuesday even as town officials are working to re-staff the department while fielding multiple investigations, the Select Board announced on Monday.
The board met for a previously unscheduled but busy meeting to address the future of the town's Youth Services department in the wake of the full-time staff resigning en masse about two weeks ago. The board also announced the hiring of an outside firm to investigate allegations of a toxic work environment brought forward in recent weeks by outgoing AYS employees.
Also at the Select Board meeting, Town Manager Andrew Flanagan announced the town would be releasing seven former town employees from nondisclosure agreements they made with the town in their separation agreements. Those employees were not paid for the agreements, he added. The employees or what departments they worked for have not yet been publicly named.
The board met remotely, Chair Chris Huntress said, because multiple members were on vacation.
New staff for AYS
Currently, Andover Youth Services is on its end-of-summer break and programs would typically resume after Labor Day. The town is on track to resume those programs with the help of temporary hires and other town staff helping out, said Jemma Lambert, director of community services
The Cormier Youth Center will be open for drop-in hours on weekdays from after school until 6:30 p.m., Lambert said. There will be additional programs to extend those hours three nights a week and on Saturday mornings, she said.
A new school year began on Wednesday.
Multiple seasonal employees, who are typically part-time high school and college students, have also agreed to stay with the department after summer, Lambert said.
Jess Porter, human resources director, said there have been many responses to the temporary job postings for the department.
The Select Board unanimously approved emergency hiring powers for town officials to potentially hire staff before the board meets again on Sept. 13.
The temporary jobs will last an estimated six to nine months before the town hires a permanent director and staff, Porter said.
Beyond immediate staffing needs, Flanagan said he is putting together a steering committee to help assist the department's redevelopment with new staff. A panel of four people will choose 11 community members for the committee, which will convene in late September or early October, Flanagan said.
The resignation of all four full-time AYS staffers came three days after town officials at the Aug. 16 Select Board meeting announced an investigation into staff potentially receiving illegal payments from the Andover Youth Foundation — a local nonprofit that supports the youth center.
The investigation into those payments has moved forward despite the resignations, said Town Counsel Tom Urbelis Monday. The town has hired the Boston-based firm Nixon Peabody to conduct the investigation, Urbelis said.
At that same August meeting, Neal Callahan, now-outgoing AYS program coordinator, made public accusations of a "toxic work environment" created after the firing of former AYS Director Bill Fahey.
Town officials have denied accusations of a "toxic work environment," and said they did not know of any such issues until they were raised by Callahan at the meeting.
Huntress said the town still wants to investigate the serious accusations. Jean Haertl, founder of Safety and Respect at Work, LLC has been hired to conduct that investigation, Urbelis said.
“This is not investigating any specific individual, just the claim that was made at that meeting,” Urbelis said, clarifying that the investigation will only look into accusations made by AYS staff and no other departments.
The next Select Board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13 where Select Board members have asked for updates on the future of AYS.