The Coastal Star

Briny Breezes: Town Council wants changes for deputy town clerk

By Dan Moffett

    Briny Breezes Town Council members are trying to figure out how to redefine the deputy clerk’s position so they can offer residents more access to Town Hall services.
    The issue comes down to whether Deputy Town Clerk Lesa Shoeman should continue as an independent contractor — the town’s only one — who has some flexibility over when and where she works, or should she become a town employee who is required to work in Town Hall during specified hours?
    The distinction between contractor and employee is important because of potential liabilities and tax issues the town might face, depending on which arrangement it chooses.
    “Essentially, what was happening was the town needs more on-premises work here at Town Hall for the residents,” said Town Attorney John Skrandel. “Residents have been complaining about not being able to get communication, whether it’s permits or other information, except on Tuesday and Thursday, which is the time the Town Hall is open.”
    Shoeman took the position in September 2012 and has been under contract as a part-time independent contractor. But that arrangement probably won’t work if the town wants her to keep Town Hall open more days each week.
    Skrandel said it “tends to make her more of an employee” than a contractor if she’s required to be in the office.
    “Residents can’t go to her home to get things,” Skrandel said during the April 24 council meeting. “If she’s not here, it’s a problem. If she is here, she’s more of an employee.” Mayor Mike Hill, also an attorney, said that, as a legal matter, the description of her position doesn’t count nearly as much as the nature of the relationship between her and the town.
    “Just because we call Lesa an independent contractor or because she wants to be an independent contractor doesn’t make her an independent contractor,” Hill said.
    The mayor said that if the Internal Revenue Service considers her an employee, then the town would have an obligation to withhold payroll taxes. Hill said he believes that what the town wants from her “makes her sound a lot to me like an employee.”
    Skrandel said that, because the deputy clerk has access to public records, allowing her independent contractor status and off-site work raises custody issues about the possibility of important documents leaving the Town Hall. What if they’re lost, stolen or destroyed?
    Briny has struggled to come up with the right formula for the deputy clerk position for several years. Shoeman, 40, the daughter of town bookkeeper Linda Harvel, is the third person to hold the job since 2011.
    Council members have said they have no complaints about Shoeman’s performance, but do want her duties to change. They voted unanimously to cancel her contract, but to keep paying her until May 18, hoping that a new arrangement with her can be worked out by then.
    In other business:
    • Council members unanimously approved the proposal of Alderman Karen Wiggins to cancel the July Council meeting.
 Wiggins said it’s been too difficult to get a quorum for meetings during the summer months.

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