Stuart Schulman was up front about what Board of Selectmen’s meetings are not: “We are not The Jerry Springer Show.” But the last prime time meeting of the board, on Monday March 16th, had its TV-like moments.
But after a confusing open-to-the-public executive session apparently intended to discuss Town Manager Mark Haddad’s feeling of being “unsafe” enough to request a police officer at the previous week’s meeting, residents in the Town Hall lobby were making comparisons to the classic Abbot and Costello “Who’s On First” comedy routine.
Chair Josh Degen kicked off the meeting with an announcement that two issues would be handled in executive session at the end of the meeting, The first was a complaint, he said, by a resident. The second was “A complaint against me by I don’t know who,” and that he wanted the complaint aired in open session, rather than the follow the usual closed-door private session in which most personnel matters are handled.
Both issues surfaced during the previous week’s meeting, when an email from Town Manager Mark Haddad was read out loud. Haddad wrote: “Please consider this email as a request for a formal investigation as to why I am hearing about potential Board action against me as an employee of the Town from residents of the Town” and complained that Degen would not “enlighten” him. Degen said he couldn’t “enlighten” Haddad because he didn’t have any idea what Haddad was talking about at the time. (See the full story on that meeting.)
After the regular business meeting on the 16th, town counsel Brian Maser said a verbal complaint about safety in the workplace had been made. Vice Chair Anna Eliot had discussed the procedure with him, and earlier in the week, Degen was notified that he should prepare to appear before them for a personnel-related executive session.
Selectmen, though elected officials, can be legally viewed as town employees. Because the complaint was seen as a complaint about an “employee,” Degen, the executive session rule would apply.
Degen recused himself from the Board and turned the meeting over to Vice Chair Anna Eliot. He said, “Basically the complaint that is the purpose of this executive session has to do with the [reason] I am here because you have a complaint from — would you name the complainant in public please to me or against me and what the allegation is against me?”
Eliot replied that it was a “request from Mr. Haddad.”
But Haddad contradicted her and said, “I did not file a complaint about safety to ask for this meeting tonight. I don’t know where this came from. I didn’t make this request.”
Degen asked, “Then who did and why am I here?”
Eliot responded that Selectman Jack Petropoulos, “… sent me an email raising the concerns and that is what prompted me to call town counsel.”
Petropoulos said after the meeting that he thought Haddad’s charges the previous week, although he didn’t call out Degen by name, were serious enough that they should be heard and investigated. He added that it wasn’t just that the complainant was Haddad and the alleged person was Degen — he said that in any organization, any allegation of an unsafe workplace should be dealt with immediately to resolve the situation and to avoid any legal problems that could crop up by not addressing the charge aggressively.
In the meeting, Haddad said again, “To set the record straight, it did not come from me.”
The video of the March 9 meeting shows that Mr. Haddad expressed concern about his personal safety and that he said he asked the police department to provide an officer at the meeting. In the meeting, when Haddad was asked why there was a police officer present at the meeting, he responded it was for his personal safety, without providing any specifics. The officer in attendance earned less than $200, billed at time and a half for overtime, Haddad said. There was not a police officer at the meeting on the 16th.
On the 16th, Petropoulos said he brought the matter forward to the board because “… an employee who is concerned about his safety, eventually I went to the Vice-chair because we need to take it seriously… I handed it off to Anna and have heard nothing about it since.”
Haddad replied that, “I never filed a complaint about that issue.”
Petropoulos came back at Haddad’s assertion, agreeing that a formal written complaint had not been filed nor an individual specified, but that Haddad had requested an investigation naming Degen and Rob Flynn, and had made a statement in the previous meeting that he was concerned about his personal safety. He again stressed that any employee fears about personal safety had to be taken seriously by the town and the board.
Schulman jumped in at that point, delivered his Jerry Springer line, and said that the level of finger pointing, accusations and counter-accusations had become “silly.” He asked everyone to consider dropping the complaint or investigation being discussed.
“While I am with you in spirit, I am the one sitting here called to task because it’s been alleged that I may have created an unsafe work environment and while the town manager has not formally filed anything or a complaint. I want to know why I am sitting here,” Degen said.
“Have I ever made a threat or had anything to do with harming or intimidating your personal safety?” he asked Haddad.
Instead of answering, Haddad said, “I have no comment. I made a statement at the meeting last week and for some reason it took a life of its own… I didn’t want this discussion with Mr. Degen tonight. This is all news to me. I was out of work last week and had no idea that this was on the agenda.”
Eliot tried to get the meeting back on track, saying that the intent of the session was to schedule a future session at which Degen’s attorney could be present. She noted that Degen had told her over the weekend that he wanted his attorney present.
Haddad asked her if that was necessary, and Degen asked Haddad, “What did I do wrong?”
Haddad replied that, “If there’s not a complaint raised by me, I withdraw that particular complaint. This issue goes away. Stuart, that’s what you wanted; I just did it. On that particular issue,” he said, waving his finger. He did not specify which particular issue or complaint he was referring to.
Degen asked the board to go on record and state that there was no formal complaint and no finding against him. “I in no way did anything to warrant this.”
Petropoulos agreed, saying that if the issue was really a nonissue, Degen deserved to be exonerated.
Selectman Schulman stated, “I am willing to exonerate Selectman Degen from this… I am happy to do so.”
Eliot and Selectman Peter Cunningham didn’t say anything.
Haddad backed away even further from the board’s and Degens assumption that his problem was with Degen, and said, “I never (identified) Mr. Degen by name last week. Don’t put words in my mouth. I don’t know who made the assumption that it was Mr. Degen.”
Although Schulman and Petropoulos both said Degen should be exonerated, the board made no formal motions and took no votes on anything.
The board ended that portion of its meeting and went into closed executive session to hear the other complaint Haddad referred to in his email from the previous week. That session related to Rob Flynn’s successful effort to put a nonbinding referendum on the Spring Town Meeting warrant, asking the selectmen not to renew Haddad’s employment contract.