By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON – Brandon Director of Public Works Daryl Burlett left his position this past August after a dispute over the validity of Burlett’s $22,011 mileage reimbursement check.
Last week, for the first time since Burlett’s departure, the Brandon Select Board addressed the issue openly, saying that insurance had reimbursed the town for the exceptional mileage check.
Burlett has also commented publicly on the issue.
In July 2019 Burlett submitted an invoice for mileage he accumulated using his own vehicle during construction of the Segment 6 project through Brandon that began in June 2017. The mileage was compiled into one document.
The mileage bill was paid, Burlett resigned and since then neither he nor the town would comment on how he ran up such a large bill and why the town paid it.
The $22,011 issue
On Tuesday the select board broke the silence, saying the town’s insurance carrier, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), has reimbursed the town for the $22,011 in question, less the town’s $1,000 deductible.
“The Town has further sought reimbursement of legal costs incurred in resolving this matter and has been advised by VLCT that reimbursement of those costs is forthcoming to the Town as well,” the statement continued. “The Town’s loss is now subrogated to VLCT.”
The statement goes on to detail the dates of Burlett’s employment and states the circumstances around the end of Burlett’s employment with the town.
“His resignation on (Aug. 22) followed the select board’s decision to decline to authorize payment of a mileage reimbursement invoice he submitted for the U.S. Route 7 Segment Six project,” the press release reads. “This invoice appeared on the board’s Segment 6 warrant at its July 29, 2019, meeting, and began several weeks of attempts by the town manager and select board to resolve our difference with Mr. Burlett regarding whether he was due mileage.”
The statement also details an agreement that the board said it authorized honoring Burlett’s request to use his own vehicle when he was hired in March 2015, and use fuel from the town’s fleet fuel tank for his personal vehicle.
The statement notes that the situation involved a single invoice and a single check, not a pattern of transactions
“All fuel usage for all town vehicles and for Mr. Burlett’s personal vehicle was correctly logged and regularly reconciled by town office administrative personnel throughout Mr. Burlett’s employment by the Town,” the statement notes. “Mr. Burlett is the only town employee who used a personal vehicle and town fuel in this manner, and the only town employee who was authorized to do so.”
In the statement, the board also details the invoice and payment structure required by the federal government, which was a funding partner in the Segment 6 construction project. The prompt pay requirements mean that there were times when invoices had to be paid between regular board meetings. The process for authorizing invoices began with the contractor, then required approval by the consulting engineers and then Burlett, who was the municipal project manager, before coming to the board.
The select board also gave Town Manager Dave Atherton the authority to sign orders. The town paid 100% of invoices, and then submitted the same invoices to the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) for reimbursement of 95% upon the agency’s approval. VTrans uses federal highway funds and VTrans funds to reimburse the town and is the authorized federal highway administrator for this project.
As the town manager, Atherton regularly examined and approved Segment 6 invoices submitted by the contractor and approved by the engineers and the municipal project manager, who was Burlett. Those invoices exceed Atherton’s usual spending authority of $10,000, but were specifically authorized by board vote on May 8, 2017. The town treasurer signs checks that make payments authorized by the select board or in this case, the town manager as the select board’s designee.
But as the municipal project manager, Burlett would approve those invoices directly if it was state or federal highway money, not town money. The board statement addresses that.
“The $22,011 invoice presented by Mr. Burlett, which reached the board on July 29, 2019, had not been reviewed by the contractor or the engineers because it originated ‘higher’ in the chain than their places in the chain,” the select board statement read. “It originated with Mr. Burlett himself as municipal project manager. It had not been authorized by the town manager, who had directed Mr. Burlett to obtain pre-clearance from VTrans for any mileage invoice he anticipated submitting. Mr. Burlett advised the town manager that he would do so. The town has since learned that VTrans had already advised Mr. Burlett not to submit for mileage in the way he was contemplating, as it would not be approved.”
Select board Chair Seth Hopkins, who explained that the board had not made any prior public comment on the advice of town attorney Constance Tyron Pell, said that no one involved in the process did anything “out of the normal routine.’ He also said that Atherton did not see Burlett’s invoice when it was submitted because Atherton was on vacation.
Disputing the issue
When the check for mileage appeared on the warrants, Hopkins said he was a little surprised, but willing to give Burlett the benefit of a doubt.
“Honestly, it was possible,” Hopkins said of the amount requested, adding, “But I was very curious… Daryl had never submitted mileage before. We don’t know why he submitted the mileage the way he did.”
Atherton said that Burlett came to him the Friday before he — Town Manager Atherton — was supposed to go on vacation just before July 4, 2019, and said the town needed to buy him a new truck because of the wear and tear he was experiencing on his vehicle due to the job. Atherton said the town couldn’t do that.
“I thought he was kidding,” Atherton said. “Then he said he needed to at least get reimbursed for mileage, and I told him to call Scott Robertson at VTrans and clear it with him.”
Atherton said Burlett worked to have office staff generate the mileage breakdown, which is 28 pages long and claims 90-100 miles per day almost every workday for two years, from June 2017 to June 2019.
“Not having any reason to doubt him, I put it together and asked him if he got approval from VTrans, and he said, ‘Yes,’” Atherton said. “Did I know he was submitting mileage? Yes. Did I believe he had approval from VTrans? Yes. I had no reason to doubt that he would do it correctly. I trusted the guy, and that’s where it sits.”
But then Atherton said he went on vacation the week Burlett submitted the invoice and the check was cut and added to the select board’s warrants for the following select board meeting on July 29.
“He had office staff cut the check without approval from VTrans,” Atherton said. “Monday, when I came back, I called Scott Robertson (project engineer) at VTrans and he said he hadn’t seen the mileage. He said he could submit mileage, but not like this.”
Reached for comment Tuesday, Robertson said that he did not approve the mileage invoice.
“That type of reimbursement does not fall under eligible costs,” he said. “The town manager agreed the those participating miles were not reimbursable.”
Roberson was asked if he approved the mileage.
“No, that is not true,” he said. “No, I never approved that type of expense and I am the one who rejected the invoice.”
The board tabled the warrant that included the mileage check amount, then took the $22,011 amount out of that warrant at the next select board meeting before approving it.
Burlett speaks out
Reached at home for comment, Burlett disputes a number of claims made by the town and Atherton over how the mileage was requested and then paid for. Burlett said that a town truck was never offered to him, so his using his personal vehicle for work was his only option.
He also said that Atherton asked VTrans directly if mileage was reimbursable, and was told that it was. He did acknowledge that he later discovered mileage to and from work could not be included in claimed mileage. But he stands by his desire to be reimbursed for wear and tear on his personal vehicle.
“I’m wearing out my vehicle for their project,” Burlett said, saying he burned through the warranty on two trucks accruing mileage working on Segment 6. Burlett said he hadn’t thought about how much wear and tear would be put on his vehicle, or he would have had mileage written into the contract before the project began.
“I was more concerned with the project,” he said. “I don’t worry about the little things. This has gone way left of where it should have gone and Dave would not stand up to the board and say that he authorized it. I’ve been slandered and the town has (dumped) on me.”
Atherton and the board stated that between July 29 and Aug. 22, 2019, Atherton attempted to resolve the conflict between the board’s refusal to authorize mileage to Burlett and the fact that the check had already been issued to him without proper authorization.
“I told him the board wanted the check back,” Atherton said. “Daryl was going to re-submit and forfeit his vacation time to pay it back.”
Atherton said that when he told Burlett he also needed to deduct the money he used in town gas as well, Burlett walked away.
Burlett resigned on Aug. 22. On Sept. 5, the town was told that Burlett had obtained legal representation, Peter Langrock of Langrock, Sperry and Wool. The town also pursued a loss claim with VLCT, which is investigating the matter.
But Burlett said he did not resign, that Atherton told him he had spoken to the town attorney and that he would pay Burlett’s vacation pay if he resigned.
“I did not resign,” Burlett said. “It was a request from the town manager that I resign to get my pay.”
Both Atherton and Burlett have said they have been deeply troubled by the series of events and wish to put the matter behind them, however they each maintain their positions.
“I don’t lie,” Burlett said. “I will tell you stuff you don’t want to hear, but I won’t lie. I’m beside myself on the whole thing. What bothers me is I’ve built my reputation and they just threw it out the window. My reputation is soiled. I busted my (butt) for this town and they tossed me out. I’m caught in a web I don’t want to be in.”
Atherton said he wishes they could have settled the issue when the check was cut, and takes offense at Burlett’s charge that he is not being honest.
“What bothers me is, I though Daryl was a friend,” Atherton said. “I have never… I don’t even take stamps. For someone to accuse me, to say that I was somehow involved in this really irritates me. For Daryl to blame me for having some part in this really bothers me. I was lied to and that’s really the bottom line here.”
The issue is now in the hands of VLCT as it pursues an investigation. Hopkins said the town considers itself out of situation now that it has bee reimbursed for the loss of the $22,011.
“It’s been frustrating for the board to have to wait this long to make a detailed public statement, but we didn’t want to risk the town being made whole,” he said. “At this time, the select board considers the matter resolved… The town’s loss in this matter consists of our insurance deductible of $1,000 and a considerable amount of time and effort by the select board, the town manager, town attorney, and town insurer. “We believe this is the best possible outcome to resolve this matter with the least harm to the town.